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Bears well prepared to face third consecutive left-footed punter

Zoltan Mesko

Zoltan Mesko

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Updated: September 17, 2013 10:11PM



No longer tasked to catch passes, Devin Hester spends practices fielding punts, either from a booming leg or out of a machine.

The machine shoots footballs that spin one of two directions. The right-footed “punt” spins clockwise out of the machine and fades to Hester’s left. A left-footed one does is the opposite.

Hester will catch the latter this week.

Again.

The Bears are preparing to face a third consecutive left-footed punter, the Steelers’ Zoltan Mesko.

“I don’t know if that’s ever happened,” Bears special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said.

STATS isn’t sure. The data company just started tracking the stat.

But it’s odd nonetheless. And a trend.

According to many studies, one in 10 people are lefties. In the NFL, though, 25 percent of punters — eight of the 32 — kick left-footed.

“It’s either crazy statistics or there’s something to it,” Bears punter Adam Podlesh said.

Always looking for an edge, Bill Belichick has started each of his 14 seasons as Patriots coach with a lefty punter.

“Every place I’ve ever been, those guys don’t like catching them as much as they do righties,” said DeCamillis, who has coached special teams in the NFL for 24 years. “For whatever reason, it’s harder.”

Hester — who holds the NFL record with 12 career punt-return touchdowns and is 11th with 2,986 career yards — has returned two punts this season with a long of three yards.

Hester said catching left-footed kicks isn’t difficult, just different.

“Once you get to the state where you’re good at catching the ball, it’s getting your body to the right position where you catch the ball feeling comfortable, where you can square up with the ball,” Hester said. “Those are things I work on, rather than worrying about catching the ball.

“I’m catching it, and I’m in the right position to make a move.”

Coaches are quick to note left-footed punters in special-teams meetings. They drop the ball on their foot at a different spot, changing the target point for defenders trying to block the punt.

And returners have to drift right, rather than left, to catch the punt.

Bears returners know that drill by now.

In training camp, the Bears practiced with lefty punter Tress Way, a rookie whom the team waived last month.

“The spin is different because it’s the exact opposite,” returner Eric Weems said.

Weems, who played for the Falcons from 2007 to ’11 before signing with the Bears, never has faced three consecutive left-footers before.

“If you’ve seen one left-footed punter, you’ve seen them all,’’ he said.

The Bears certainly have that covered.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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