Thursday, March 20, 2014
Hester can now strike fear in Bears
By Michael C. Wright
Devin Hester agreed to a three-year contract Thursday with the Atlanta Falcons, finally ending an exhilarating run as the man who re-wrote the record book as a return man in Chicago.
Known locally as The Windy City Flyer, Hester deserved more time with the Bears. But the direction the club is headed, coupled with the fact it could not afford to pay top dollar for a return specialist without a true position forced Hester and the Bears to part ways.
When Chicago finally sees Hester again in Atlanta this season, it will finally truly experience and come to know the fear it had put in opponents for so many seasons with No. 23 lined up deep. While it's obvious the Bears felt Hester is no longer the player he once was, it's a safe bet special teams coach Joe DeCamillis plans to place the his unit on high alert for what might take place if the group allows for even the slightest sliver of daylight.
Maybe Hester truly isn't the same returner he once was. But even with him supposedly experiencing a down season, my guess is at least once throughout the season, somebody in the stands at a game in 2013 held their breath for a second or two when Hester fielded a punt or a kickoff. That's the type of anticipation and excitement Hester brought to the return game in Chicago.
For those thinking he's lost it, look no further than the Oct. 20 game against Washington as evidence he hasn't. In that game, Hester broke a punt return for an 81-yard touchdown. A little more than a month prior to that contest, Hester ripped the Minnesota Vikings for a franchise-record 249 kickoff return yards; a feat that will likely be tougher to accomplish in the future with the NFL considering moving kickoffs to the 40, which will result in more touchbacks. It's also important to note all the big returns Hester broke in 2013 that were called back as the result of penalties.
Hester averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns last season, and reeled off gains of 20 yards or more on four of his 18 punt returns.
So clearly, Hester still possesses electricity in his game.
"For the past eight seasons, we have been honored to have Devin Hester as a part of our organization," general manager Phil Emery said back when the Bears announced they would not be re-signing Hester. "While Devin has redefined the pinnacle standard of the return position in the NFL, the memories and contributions he has given us cannot be measured by stats or numbers."
Instead, Hester will now provide all that for the Atlanta Falcons fan base.
In 123 games (46 starts) over eight seasons, Hester's 3,241 punt return yards rank No. 8 in NFL history and his 12.3 punt return average is good for fifth. Hester is Chicago's all-time leader in total return touchdowns, punt return touchdowns, punt return yards, kickoff return yards (5,504) and total kick return yards (8,745) and is second in all-purpose yards (11,632).
The numbers will only continue to grow in Atlanta, and you can count on an innovative mind such as Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter deploying Hester on offense in creative ways; an experiment Chicago failed to execute successfully despite numerous attempts.