‘‘It’s more of a spread offense. It gets guys in mismatches,’’ Devin Hester said of the Bears' offense. ‘‘We’ll have four or five playmakers on the field, and it’s going to be like, ‘Who are you going to double-team?’'' | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: September 30, 2012 6:26AM
Devin Hester’s profile never has been lower since he signed a four-year, $40 million contract extension in 2008 that made the Pro Bowl kick returner the Bears’ highest-paid wide receiver.
Brandon Marshall is unquestionably the Bears’ No. 1 receiver. Rookie Alshon Jeffery has more potential. Tight end Evan Rodriguez is a more intriguing playmaker. Earl Bennett still is a security blanket quarterback Jay Cutler will look to on third downs and in tight spots.
Though he’s still a starter, Hester is just another guy in this offense — and he couldn’t be happier.
‘‘Now I can go in and just play and not try to put a lot of pressure on myself to be the guy who takes over the game for us,’’ Hester said. ‘‘We have a lot of depth, and we have a lot of weapons. A majority of the time, safeties cheated to my side [before]. I was getting a lot of balls thrown my way, but I wasn’t getting a lot of mismatches and getting put on guys that aren’t supposed to be out there.’’
Hester, who has four receptions for 46 yards in the preseason, is excited about the opportunity to play in an offense he said is more suited for him than any he has played in since he became a wide receiver in 2007.
‘‘It’s more of a spread offense. It gets guys in mismatches,’’ Hester said. ‘‘We’ll have four or five playmakers on the field, and it’s going to be like, ‘Who are you going to double-team?’
‘‘We have a great receiver in Brandon Marshall who’s going to open up a lot of stuff for us. A lot of safeties are going to roll to his side. That’s when the mismatches and one-on-one matchups will happen. There are going to be times when I’m in the slot against a third or fourth corner — even a linebacker.’’
The second-round draft pick from Miami has made his share of big plays on offense. He had touchdowns of 81, 55 and 65 yards among his first 54 receptions in 2007-08. While his overall production is well below that of a No. 1 receiver, he still should be on the field. In four seasons as a full-time receiver, Hester is averaging 44 receptions for 567 yards (12.9 per catch) with 11 total touchdowns.
But it’s the elimination of the expectation that Hester can be a No. 1 receiver that might ignite his most productive season in the NFL. Regardless of his contract, he is what he is — a 5-11, 190-pound kick returner who has good hands, a good understanding of offensive football, four years of experience as a wide receiver and, at 29, is still among the most dangerous open-field runners in the 92-year history of the league.
‘‘From day one when I signed that contract,’’ Hester said, ‘‘coach Lovie told me, ‘This is not something where you need to feel you have pressure on yourself. Just be yourself and play ball.’ ’’
Hester insists he has done that, but with Cutler, Marshall, Bennett and Jeffery, the dynamic has changed. In 2008, the Bears’ leading wide receivers were Hester (51 receptions, 665 yards), Rashied Davis (35-445), Brandon Lloyd (26-364) and Marty Booker (14-211).
‘‘We’re going to use all the weapons we have,’’ Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said. ‘‘Matter of fact, [Hester’s] role increases, and so does Alshon Jeffery’s. We’re going to try and get those guys on the field as much as possible. You have to put your best players on the field and give them a chance to make plays.’’
That doesn’t mean Hester will be on the field for 70 plays a game. But theoretically, even with fewer plays, he’ll have more opportunities. Cutler threw 432 passes in his last full season with the Bears in 2010. The final year he was with Marshall in Denver, he threw 616.
Hester isn’t concerned with getting lost in the shuffle.
‘‘I feel I’ll always be a playmaker in this offense,’’ he said. ‘‘If I get [fewer] catches, I’ll still end up with a lot of yards. The way this offense is designed, I could have four catches and easily get over 100 yards.’’
‘‘Oh,’’ Hester said with a smile. ‘‘There will be touchdowns.’’