Chicago's Devin Hester knows what the easy story would be: As he has transitioned into a full-time receiver, his effectiveness as a returner has diminished.
The statistics make a good case: In six games this season, Hester is two receptions away from matching his season total in 2007 of 20. At the same time, he is averaging 5.4 yards on 11 punt returns and 22.1 on 16 kickoff returns. His longest has been a 51-yard kickoff return and he has no touchdown returns after totaling 11 in his first two seasons.
Hester, however, isn't ready to use that excuse. Here's how he put it Wednesday, according the Chicago Sun-Times:
"I want to say [focusing on playing receiver] is the reason why. But I know that I've got to be better at what I'm capable of doing. I would say that goes toward the return game."
Opponents are still treating Hester as a dangerous returner, routinely angling their punts or popping up their kickoffs to avoid giving Hester and his blocking a full opportunity to set up the return. The tactic has given the Bears the NFL's fourth-best field position after a kickoff, as the Daily Herald points out. (On average, the Bears are starting at their 29.3-yard line).
The Detroit Lions, the Bears' opponent Sunday at Soldier Field, gave up an 80-yard punt return to Washington's Santana Moss last week. Perhaps Hester will break through as well.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Bears cornerback Nate Vasher, who has missed 17 of the team's past 27 games because of injuries, told the Chicago Tribune: "There's nothing really [to read] in between the lines" about why he hasn't played more. He is hoping that his wrist injury has healed enough to get him back on the field Sunday.
- Green Bay coaches are finding ways to use four linebackers in their three positions, diminishing the playing time of some established veterans. As the Green Bay Press-Gazette points out, starter A.J. Hawk has been giving way to Brandon Chillar in passing downs lately. That might not be an issue this Sunday against run-oriented Tennessee.
- The Packers seem to be transitioning from Korey Hall to John Kuhn at fullback, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Hall has been dealing with a knee injury, while Kuhn's blocking has improved.
- Minnesota nose tackle Pat Williams, who could be suspended after testing positive for a substance banned by the NFL, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that "my situation is different" from those of other players involved in a reported mass suspension but would not elaborate.
- Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson has been given a three-month timetable to recover from surgery to repair a dislocated big toe, according to the Star Tribune. Speaking to reporters for the first time since the injury ended his season, Henderson said: "It's been tough."
- Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky claimed he was not aware the team worked out veteran free agent Daunte Culpepper earlier this week, the Detroit News reports.
- Detroit coach Rod Marinelli refuted suggestions that the NFL has caught up to the Tampa-2 defense his team runs, according to the Oakland Press. "[It's] on execution, that's all it is," he said.