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Thursday, October 30, 2008
Black and Blue all over: No excuses from Hester


Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

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: