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Bears special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis’ task? Fixing Devin Hester

Updated: April 17, 2013 11:46PM



It’s not like Dave Toub would just wind up Devin Hester and let him go. But coaching Hester usually was the least of his concerns as the Bears’ special-teams coordinator.

Joe DeCamillis isn’t so fortunate. As the Bears’ special-teams coordinator under new coach Marc Trestman, DeCamillis has inherited one of the best special-teams units in the NFL with a particularly high-profile challenge: getting Hester right again.

The most productive returner in NFL history, Hester struggled through the most trying season of his seven-year career in 2012. He failed to return a kick or punt for a touchdown after returning six for touchdowns the previous two seasons — three in 2010 and three in 2011. Hester’s 8.3-yard average on punt returns was nearly half his 2011 average (16.2) when he led the NFL. Though his 25.9-yard average on kick returns was 10th in the NFL, Hester’s longest return was 40 yards, and the Bears’ average drive start after his 24 kickoff returns was their 25-yard line.

DeCamillis is an accomplished special-teams coordinator with 25 years of NFL experience with the Broncos, Falcons, Jaguars and Cowboys. But Hester could be a unique challenge — he was contemplating retirement after coach Lovie Smith was fired and has lost his job as a wide receiver under Trestman.

‘‘He’s been a great returner, and we want to add to that as much as we can,’’ DeCamillis said after the Bears practiced at the Walter Payton Center on Wednesday. ‘‘Change is hard for a lot of people. I think he probably said too much at the start, but he’s in a great frame of mind right now. Whatever role he can play and give us the best chance to win, that’s what we’re going to do.’’

Right now, that role is strictly on special teams. And not just as a returner. Hester worked with the kickoff-coverage unit and is likely to be a ‘‘four-phase’’ special-teams player.

‘‘He’s definitely going to be fresher to do those things [by not playing on offense],’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘That’s something we’re evaluating. He’ll be working on all the cover teams and working some other things for us, too. He’s a great weapon, and we want to use him as much as we can.’’

If Hester can avoid blockers like he can tacklers, he would be an ideal gunner on the punt-coverage unit.

‘‘The biggest thing about a great gunner is sometimes it’s the guy who can get there the fastest,’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘We had a guy in Denver who was an Olympic sprinter named Sam Gaddy. Sam wasn’t the best tackler in the world. But he sure caused a lot of fair catches. Hopefully we can expand [Hester’s] role and see what happens.’’



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