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Chicago kick returner Devin Hester ranks No. 57 in the NFL with a kickoff return average of 21.8 yards. His punt return average of 6.3 yards puts him at No. 51.
Hester has kept a mostly low public profile while compiling those pedestrian rankings this season, especially amid a transition to receiver that hasn't proved as explosive as the Bears would have hoped. But Hester spoke out this week, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Hester admitted he was frustrated but spoke realistically about culpability:
"It's tough. Not only to myself, to the fans, to the team. I set a high standard for myself, not only for myself, but outsiders, that I'm that guy that's going to take five, six returns to the house, and I haven't taken none. It's tough on me. I don't even like going outside now. I've just got to find that edge and overcome it. I could sit here and say it's my fault, but there are 11 guys out there on the field. I'm not the only one out there. I know at the end of the day I get blamed for the return game."
Some of this issue will have to wait until an offseason postmortem, but there's already a decent argument to be made that the Bears stripped themselves of a huge weapon by trying to apply Hester's game-breaking skills at another position. Instead of having a dynamic returner who makes occasional appearances on offense, they have an average returner and a below-average starting receiver.
That dynamic appears to have been tough on Hester's psyche:
"I've been trying to dodge talking about it, but now I'm going to go ahead and express my feelings. I'm frustrated. It's hard. And I want to get back to where I was, not only as a player but as the home-run hitter. The return game was basically my success in football, and now that it's not there, it's tough, being just that football player that everybody knew about."
It's hard to say what the answer is. With the return of Brandon Lloyd from injury, should the Bears go back to using Hester only in predetermined packages on offense? Or has the damage already been done in terms of focusing on the return game for this season?
Elsewhere around the NFC North on a Thursday morning: