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Devin Hester earns more praise from WR coach Darryl Drake

Receivers coach Darryl Drake insists thDevHester (23) needs ball. “If he doesn’t have more than 26 [catches] we failed him”

Receivers coach Darryl Drake insists that Devin Hester (23) needs the ball. “If he doesn’t have more than 26 [catches], we failed him,” he said. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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BEARS CAMP WATCH

CLOSE CALL

The Bears got their first scare of camp when WR Devin Hester suffered a slight ankle sprain after a catch downfield on which he was nicked by S Major Wright. Hester left the field gingerly after the play but returned moments later and made a catch in another drill. ‘‘You’re going to get a few bumps and bruises in training camp, even on non-padded days, when you fall like that,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘But he got up, finished practice, so he should be good to go.’’

PRICE-LESS

DT Brian Price, acquired from the Buccaneers for a seventh-round draft pick Thursday, underwent a physical and didn’t practice. Even though he passed, he will have to practice for three days without pads before he can participate with pads. That means his first day of full practice would be Wednesday.

LIGHTS GO ON

After two days of non-padded practice, the Bears will practice in earnest at 7 p.m. Saturday. J’Marcus Webb vs. Chris Williams and other areas of interest finally will be worth watching.

FUTURE PRACTICES

Saturday: 7 p.m.

Sunday: 2 p.m.

Monday: No practice

Tuesday: 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday: 2:30 p.m.

EXHIBITIONS

Aug. 9 vs. Broncos 7:30

Aug. 18 vs. Redskins 7

Aug. 24 at Giants 7

Aug. 30 at Browns 6:30

SEASON OPENER

The Bears open the season against the Colts at noon Sept. 9.

Updated: August 29, 2012 12:28PM



BOURBONNAIS — It’s that time of year.

‘‘Devin Hester [has improved] in every possible way,’’ Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said, calling Hester the Bears’ most improved receiver. ‘‘Route running, everything. You just see it in everything he does right now. He understands it totally.

‘‘If you watched him in practice today, I mean, how many times did he get covered? You know what I’m saying? There’s just a difference.’’

The notion that Devin Hester is ready for a breakout season as a wide receiver has become as much a rite of Bears training camp as the rookie sensation or the high-profile position battle.

‘‘This is an offense that fits me,’’ Hester said. ‘‘My biggest thing is when I catch the ball, to accelerate and make guys miss. That’s my biggest goal this year: When I get my hands on the ball, I want to just explode out and make two or three guys miss before I go down. If it’s only two out there, I want to score.’’

All he has to do is do it. Hester has proved his harshest critics wrong by becoming a productive NFL wide receiver since making the transition to offense at the end of the 2007 season. He had 51, 57 and 40 receptions from 2008 to ’10, with 10 total touchdowns. But he has yet to become the No. 1 pass-catching threat worthy of the four-year, $40 million contract extension ($15 million guaranteed) he held out of camp for in 2008.

Last year, Hester had just 26 receptions for 369 yards (14.2 per catch) and one touchdown, a drop in production that Drake implied was a product of Mike Martz’s ­offense.

‘‘If he doesn’t have more than 26 [this season], we failed him,’’ Drake said. ‘‘The only time he had 26 was when? Last year. We didn’t throw it to him. Whose fault is that? It wasn’t his. You’ve got to give him the ball.’’

Drake’s faith in Hester is so strong that he admits to a personal bias.

‘‘I’m prejudiced when it comes to Devin, and you guys know that,’’ he told reporters. ‘‘But I did see a lot of improvement out of him in a lot of areas.’’

That might be so, but we’ve heard that refrain before in the offseason and training camp.

In 2008: ‘‘He has as good a pair of hands as anybody,’’ Drake said. ‘‘His natural ability to run after the catch is unbelievable. He has not dropped a ball in any of these [offseason] practices. He’s just so far ahead right now it’s unbelievable.’’

In 2009: ‘‘He has improved in all facets, from route running to understanding concepts, understanding defenses,’’ Drake said. ‘‘In every possible aspect of the position he has really grown.’’

In 2010: ‘‘It’s on a whole different level now,’’ Hester said. ‘‘I’ve got a swag now. This is going to be my breakout year. I’m going to shock a lot of people.’’

In 2011: ‘‘He’s a lot more fluid and really distinct in his routes,’’ Drake said. ‘‘He’s just playing. He understands [the system] a lot better. He works extremely hard, and as long as he continues to do that, everything will take care of itself.’’

It didn’t quite work out. Hester was less productive in the second year of Martz’s offense than he was in the first. But Hester still believes he benefitted by learning Martz’s offense.

‘‘Coach Martz helped me out — not only him, but the players he previously coached, Isaac [Bruce], those guys,’’ Hester said. ‘‘I really trained with those guys and kind of understand what it takes to be a receiver in the NFL. That really helped.’’

So maybe this will be the year that Hester puts it all together and has the breakout season he has been seeking. It’s all up to Mike Tice, Jeremy Bates and Jay Cutler now.

‘‘When you’ve got a great, great player, you’ve got to feed him,’’ Drake said. ‘‘If Michael Jordan never touched the ball, he’d have problems. You’ve got to give him the ball. [Hester’s] getting the ball and feeling really good about things right now.’’



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