It’s been a while since Bears fans have been able to hear the famous call from Jeff Joniak, who does play-by-play for the Bears Radio Network on WBBM 780, “Devin Hester, you are ridiculous!” And quite a few games have passed since we’ve heard Hester referred to as “The Windy City Flyer.”
Thirty-four games, to be exact. His last return touchdown was in the final game of the 2007 season against New Orleans. That kind of drought has led many to speculate whether Hester should be stripped of his punt return duties so that he can concentrate solely on being a receiver, even though many teams have gone longer than that without a punt return touchdown.
If I can steal a word from Joniak, doing such a thing would be ridiculous.
Aside from being one of the fastest three players on the team — Johnny Knox and Danieal Manning, the dynamic duo returning kickoffs, are the other two — Hester still puts the fear of God in opposing coaches. Teams continue to kick away from him because they know he still has the explosiveness to return one for a score.
How many times did we see punts hit the ground against Detroit in the season opener? It’s not because Hester misreads them. And how often do we see Hester catch a punt with three opponents sitting in his lap? The demise of special teams talent on the Bears since 2007 can’t go unnoticed. The fact is, teams kick toward the sideline and prefer to sacrifice distance for more height to avoid giving Hester a chance to set off fireworks.
Hester still makes some questionable decisions from time to time including last week against Dallas. Cowboys punter Mat McBriar punted three times and Hester only had a chance to return one of them. Trying desperately to make something happen, Hester ran laterally to try to turn the corner and was dropped for a 5-yard loss. He also gets dangerously close to those punts that hit the ground. Footballs are not round; they take funny hops and one of these times the ball might bounce into him.
Still, I’d rather have Hester with the ball in his hands then to trust one of the other options on the roster.
Earl Bennett is listed as the backup to Hester and he returned a punt for a touchdown last year against Baltimore. That sounds nice nice, doesn’t it? And it looks good in the stat book. But does anybody actually remember seeing that return? You could time it with a sundial.
The same thing goes for Rashied Davis. First of all, I don’t trust his alligator arms and unsure hands to field the ball cleanly on every punt. Secondly, he lacks the elusiveness and vision that Hester possesses.
The Bears’ third option to replace Hester would be cornerback D.J. Moore. I’m not sure what his hands are like but he’s always been known as a ball hawk on defense so they couldn’t be too bad. Of the three options to replace Hester, I would prefer Moore return punts. He’s shiftier and has a diminutive frame, which would make it more difficult for coverage teams to get their hands on him.
The debate is moot, though. Hester is the most dangerous punt returner on the roster and should remain there. Instead of trying to replace him, the Bears should try to improve their special teams blocking. By taking Hester off the field, you’re allowing punters to kick it deep with less caution, and that alone will affect the Bears’ field position.
Given a small crease and adequate blocking, Hester will once again earn his frequent flyer miles.