Devin Hester of the Bears avoids a tackle attempt by Carlos Rogers of the Washington Redskins at Soldier Field on October 24 2010 in Chicago Illinois. The Redskins defeated the Bears 17-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Bears' Devin Hester sits tied for most combined kick and punt returns in a career. How can he become number one when the opposition is afraid to kick or punt to him?
If you ask the Redskins about the only scary thing about this past Sunday's Bears game against the Washington Redskins, they'd probably say Devin Hester. Redskins punters and kickers refused to punt or kick to the mighty scary Hester.
While most Bears fans will probably remember Devin Hester for his 98-yard opening kickoff return in Super Bowl XLI against the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, he is also making a name for himself this year on the field. On Oct. 17 against the Seattle Seahawks, Hester tied the NFL record for career return touchdowns with his 13th when he returned a punt 89 yards for a score. That tied him with Brian Mitchell for the record; Hester's mark includes nine career punt return touchdowns and four kickoff return scores (not including the one in the Super Bowl). What is fascinating to note is that Hester has played in only 66 career games with 262 total returns during his career, while it took Mitchell 233 games and 1070 returns to reach 13 return TDs.
Hester is a fifth year veteran, drafted second out of the University of Miami in 2006. He's been selected to the Pro Bowl twice and holds the Bears franchise record for punt return yards with 1636, ranking sixth in kickoff return yards with 2297 yards (again, excluding that Super Bowl return). Hester leads the Bears in receiving yards and is second in receptions and touchdown receptions since being transitioned to wide receiver in 2007. That year he tied an NFL record with eight touchdowns of 50 or more yards. Hester now has two punt return touchdowns this season, including a 62-yard score against Green Bay in Week Three.
This year, Hester had an 89-yard punt return touchdown in against the Seattle Seahawks in Week Six. his fourth punt return of 20-plus yards this season, which places him at the top in the National Football League. Since 2006, Hester has 32 punt returns of 20-plus yards, also the most in the NFL. The Bills' Roscoe Parrish is second with 25. Hester ranks third in the NFL in 2010 in punt return average (his 17 yard average includes 272 yards on 16 returns) and it's the best among players with at least 10 punt returns.
Because he was so good as a kick and punt returner in his rookie year, many fans were unhappy when Hester was transitioned to wide receiver after that 2006 season. By some reports, although Hester was a wide receiver at the University of Miami, he wasn't thrilled about being on offense. He finally agreed, after being told the switch was to try and get him more receptions and more chances to run the ball.
In 2007, Hester had his ups and downs. However, he finished the season with six kicks returned for touchdowns, setting a league record. He also finished that season ranking fourth on the league's all-time combined kick return list, behind Brian Mitchell with 13, Eric Metcalf with 12 and Dante Hall with 12. Hester also amassed 299 yards on 20 receptions as a receiver, but he was often used as a decoy. While the coaching staff thought he showed enough promise to become one of the team's top receivers in 2008, Hester often made small mistakes, such as running routes incorrectly and dropping catchable balls. However, he still concluded the season with four Player of the Week Awards, which game him a franchise high of seven career Player of the Week Awards and an invitation to the 2008 Pro Bowl.
In 2008, Hester was fined for missing two days of Bears summer camp after informing the team he would not attend until he was awarded a new contract. He received a four-year contract extension, reportedly worth up to $40 million. He missed one game that season due to torn cartilage in his ribs, but otherwise played the year as both punt returner and receiver.
Hester became Jay Cutler's go-to guy after Cutler joined the Bears last year. In fact, the first game of 2009, Hester caught seven of Cutler's passes for 90 yards. Despite missing three starts with a calf injury, Hester lead the team with 757 receiving yards last season, finishing behind Greg Olsen in receptions
After Hester's record-tying touchdown against the Seahawks, the Redskins kicked away from him for nearly the entire game last Sunday. Will other teams continue to do that? If so, the Bears should consider putting others back with Hester as decoys -- perhaps figuring out a way for them to swap places with Hester as a kick comes toward them. If not, we'll be deprived of one of the Bears' best scoring chances.