Friday, July 25, 2008
Hester doesn't let contract dissatisfaction stand in way of reporting to camp
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Devin Hester showed up at the Chicago Bears' training camp without a new contract. Whether the kick return star will practice without one remains to be seen.
After missing the first two days, Hester reported Friday because he saw some progress in negotiations.
"It's looking good so I came back," he said.
As for practicing: "No comment on that," he said.
Meanwhile, coach Lovie Smith said he held Hester out of Friday's practice because of tightness in his hamstring even though he had no noticeable limp.
"He's still not ready to play," Smith said. "We still think it's something that's minor."
But Hester's contract situation is no minor issue.
The two-time Pro Bowler has two years left on his deal and wants to re-negotiate. Hester, who also played wide receiver last season, watched as several teammates got new contracts in the offseason.
A second-round draft pick in 2006, he had said he skipped practices to make a statement that he was serious about a new deal, and that $445,000 a year was not enough money. Hester's financial value is difficult to judge, since he's never started a game on offense and wide receivers earn more than return specialists -- even those that dazzle.
Hester thrilled fans with 11 punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns in his first two seasons. He also returned a missed field goal 108 yards in 2006 and ran back the opening kickoff in the 2007 Super Bowl 92 yards for a touchdown.
The Bears eased him in on offense last season, after he initially balked at moving from the defensive backfield, and Hester wound up catching 20 passes for 299 yards.
Now, he's expected to play a bigger role on offense.
"I don't want to fall too far behind," Hester said. "I want to be with my teammates. ... I'm here and basically, that's all I have to say."
The Bears have given new deals this offseason to Lance Briggs, Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher, Desmond Clark and Alex Brown. And on Wednesday they signed this year's first-round pick, Vanderbilt offensive lineman Chris Williams, to a five-year deal reportedly worth $16 million.
Meanwhile, Hester waits.
"He has a contract," Smith said. "When he's ready to go [physically], I assume he'll be out there."
The arrival of Hester, who could be fined about $30,000 for missing the first two days, boosted the mood at Bears camp. Fans cheered as he rode in on a trainer's cart with about 25 minutes left in practice and mobbed him for autographs afterward. Teammates and coaches were glad to see him, too.
"He's definitely a team player," fullback Jason McKie said. "He definitely wanted to be around this team and get back into camp and get back to work. That's the kind of guy he is. ... I think that speaks volumes about his character, coming here even though his contract situation is not resolved."
McKie said Hester woke him up around 1 a.m. Friday, after arriving at Olivet Nazarene University.
"He was like, 'I'm here," McKie said. "I'm like, 'Man, so what? Go to bed.' But I was happy he was back."
So was offensive coordinator Ron Turner.
"Big smile, big smile, happy he's here," he said.
Hester looked lost at times on offense, but there were also enough flashes of brilliance -- like an 81-yard touchdown reception against Minnesota -- to convince Chicago that he could play an important role.
"You see what he did in the return game?" Clark said. "He can do that for our offense, also."
He needs practice, though. He needs to master the entire offense, not just the scaled-down version the Bears ran when he was in last season.
"He's come a long way, and a big reason is he's committed to it full time," Turner said. "Last year, the returning part was No. 1 and he played some receiver in a very limited role. We talked in the offseason and the objective was for him to become a full-time receiver. ... He's going to learn the [whole] offense."
Notes Williams sat out with lower back stiffness on Friday, after leaving practice early the previous day.