On the Bears first kickoff return against the San Francisco 49ers Thursday night, Devin Hester lined up deep with fellow 2006 second round pick Danieal Manning lined up as the upback in front of him. Hester took the kickoff in the end zone and ran it about 10 yards with Manning slowly moving forward toward the wedge. As Hester was about to hit the wedge, Manning pivoted and turned toward Hester, taking a handoff from him in a cleverly devised reverse by special teams coach Dave Toub.
The play was nearly a disaster as Manning was almost tackled near the goal line by a trio of 49ers, but it did result in a 72-yard return. Five plays later, Kyle Orton connected with Rashied Davis for a touchdown.
The Bears also tried out Manning, Garrett Wolfe, and Earl Bennett at returning kickoffs throughout the game.
Manning had another long return, at the end of which he fumbled, but the Bears recovered.
At first thought, it would appear that the Bears are looking for Hester’s replacement. Another possibility is that the team is just trying not to overuse Hester in the preseason.
But what they also might be doing is looking for a complement to Hester so that teams will be less likely to kick away from him during the regular season.
It’s a given that Hester’s increased playing time at wide receiver will mean his returns will be cut back, but I wouldn’t worry about the team not using Hester at all. I don’t think the coaching staff would be that naïve.