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Saturday, November 22, 2008
Black and Blue all over: Manning replaces Hester?

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

It appears the Chicago Bears are making a bold move to improve their return game after 10 weeks of decidedly average performances.

Danieal Manning is expected to replace Devin Hester as the primary kickoff returner Sunday at St. Louis, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper reported that "nothing is set in stone" but noted Manning has worked as the top returner throughout practice this week.

Manning replaced Hester in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 37-3 loss at Green Bay, part of a series of moves to use backups for mop-up duty. Coach Lovie Smith said earlier this week that he liked what he saw from Manning last Sunday, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times, the first indication the Bears were considering a change.

Manning has a career average of 24.9 yards per kickoff return and averaged 44.2 yards during the preseason. Hester has gone without a touchdown return this season, either on kickoffs or punts, but Manning said his job is more basic.

"They're not asking me to return and score every time I touch the ball," Manning said. "It's all about field position, ball security. And that's what I do."

Good for the Bears if they follow through with this move. Hester has appeared overwhelmed at times as he returns kickoffs, punts and plays receiver full-time. Earlier this week, former Bears great Gale Sayers said Hester looked "afraid." You could make an argument that reducing Hester's responsibilities as a receiver might be better for everyone, but at least the team isn't willing to stand pat indefinitely.

Continuing around the NFC North on a chilly Saturday morning in the upper Midwest: