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Are Bears Preparing To Phase Devin Hester Out Of Kick Return Duty?

The Chicago Bears quietly added free agents Eric Weems and Devin Thomas to the roster this offseason, both of whom have kick return experience, and now Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune thinks it's time to ask whether Devin Hester will be pushed out of his role as a kick returner. Hester was noticeably less aggressive in his kick returns last season, and as McClure points out, he ranked just 24th in the NFL with a 21.9 yard average on returns. That wasn't even the best mark on his own team, as Johnny Knox managed a 26.5 yard average.

Knox's status is still unknown heading into the 2012 season after undergoing surgery to repair his injured spine during the offseason, but Weems and Thomas give the Bears legitimate alternatives on kickoffs. Hester will almost certainly remain the primary punt returner, but when McClure asked about the kickoff situation, head coach Lovie Smith left the topic open for discussion:

"We have that versatility now," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We added another good player into the (kick-return) mix in Devin Thomas."

"This offseason, we're still talking about the roles of different guys," Smith said. "First off, we want to get good players. Then we will put them in their perfect spots a little bit later."

Hester still led the NFL with a 16.2 yards per return average on punts in the 2011-12 NFL season.

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