Four Downs: Hester a Bear beyond '13?
He returned five kickoffs for a Bears-record 249 yards against the Vikings in Week 2 -- including a 76-yarder and an 80-yarder -- and brought back his only kickoff return 31 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1.
If Hester, who will be a free agent after the season, continues to be a difference-maker for the Bears in the return game, will his career in Chicago extend beyond this season?
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Devin Hester will play his way into a new Bears contract after this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. A confident and healthy Hester is a great weapon for the Bears to have under contract moving forward. If Hester has a Pro Bowl caliber year returning kickoffs and punts, why wouldn't the Bears make an attempt to re-sign him in the offseason? The question, of course, is compensation. Hester is making a total of $2.1 million in 2013 to be strictly a specialist. Are the Bears comfortable paying him the same amount in a new contract? Will Hester want more? These are difficult topics to discuss because we really don't know how it's all going to shake out. But put it this way: After two weeks Hester has done nothing to hurt his chances of landing a new deal from the Bears in free agency, or maybe even before that.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Like Marc Trestman, I'm an admitted Hester fan. Watching him return kicks is like watching Derrick Rose drive the lane, pure athletic joy. But I don't know that the Bears will be able to afford a full-time kick returner. I think Hester will have a very good season, and I think he's worth a good deal just as a return man, but I bet the Bears let him get that money on the open market and invest in other positions. It'll be a sad day when Hester is no longer a Bear, so enjoy him now.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears' rookie right side of the line has exceeded expectations through two games.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Mistakes are inevitable from rookies. Kyle Long and Jordan Mills have been guilty of the occasional blown assignment or missed block in the first two weeks, but neither has surrendered that disaster-type sack Bears fans have grown accustomed to seeing from the offensive line. Both Long and Mills can more than hold their own. Long brings a certain nastiness that Chicago hasn't seen from a Bears offensive lineman since the time of Olin Kreutz, while Mills appears to be technically sound for a fifth-round pick out of Louisiana Tech. The future is bright for the offensive line, and it starts with the right side. The duo has given every indication they can handle the responsibility for the long haul.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. I thought the Bengals game would be a real rite of passage for the duo, and not in a good way. The best thing you can say about Long and Mills is that you haven't really noticed them. For offensive linemen, that's a great compliment. So is this: Jay Cutler has only been sacked once. In addition, the Bears have not been shy in running Matt Forte behind the duo and he's off to a pretty strong start.
Fact or Fiction: The play of the defensive line is cause for concern.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears aren't paying close to $20 million in base salary to Julius Peppers and Henry Melton for them to just be OK pass-rushers. No, the defensive line needs to crank it up Sunday in Pittsburgh, starting with the two Pro Bowlers. The Bears have done a respectable job defending the run the past two weeks, but where is the pressure? Averaging a sack a game is not going to get it done. The Bears had eight sacks through two weeks of the 2012 season, and that included a bad loss in Green Bay. We can talk all day about how quarterbacks around the NFL are getting rid of the ball quicker and taking shorter and shorter drops, but pass-rushers are paid to rush the passer. It's time for the Bears to begin doing that.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I wouldn't call it a concern quite yet. The pieces are there for the front four to make an impact, it just hasn't happened yet. Small sample size, as they say in baseball. Melton and Peppers missed enough time in the preseason where they are a little behind. The sacks will come, but this week's game could really help them build confidence.
Fact or Fiction: A road game against a desperate 0-2 Steelers team on national television will be too tough to overcome.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Steelers aren't going to roll over for the Bears. There is way too much pride on that roster and way too much skill on their defensive coaching staff for Pittsburgh not to put up a fight on Sunday night. But in the end, I just don't see the Steelers having enough on offense to win. They can't run the ball. That's a problem. And not even the return of Heath Miller can help that. I predict the Bears in a close one. But if the Bears' offense turns the ball over four times like it did against the Vikings, then there is no guarantee they walk out of Heinz Field 3-0.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Beware the allure of the "gimme game," Bears fans, especially on the road. Steelers fans are ready to turn on this team, and would gladly trade offensive coordinator Todd Haley back to his old team for a couple Ditka brand sausages, but they will be loud Sunday night at Heinz Field. Forget the fans, though. With their season on the line, the Steelers' defense will get a couple takeaways (finally), and I think Ben Roethlisberger will create enough offense to squeak out a win.
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