Bears returner Devin Hester has mad skills
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter September 17, 2013 9:52PM
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+ The ultimate mixed bag. Devin Hester had KO returns of 80, 76 and 42 yards. But Cordarrelle Patterson returned a KO for a TD and a too-many-men penalty on a punt kept alive a Vikings drive.
Updated: September 24, 2013 6:48PM
Bears rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene has yet to take a snap on defense in two games, but he already feels he has a special niche in the NFL.
‘‘I’m blocking for Devin Hester, one of the greatest ever,’’ he said.
Greene had seen Hester on television taking over games with kick returns. But like other newcomers on the Bears’ special-teams units, he gets a special kick out of being one of they guys helping make Hester happen.
‘‘It’s awesome,’’ said Greene, a fourth-round draft pick from Rutgers. ‘‘Those returns gave me so much energy. Just knowing that I’m blocking for one of the greatest returners in the history of the game, it’s just phenomenal.
‘‘Just seeing how electrifying he is on the field, it makes you appreciate being here and puts things in perspective. I’m honored that I’m playing with such a great guy and a such a great football player.’’
Hester had one of those days against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday that reminds you just how good he can be when his mind is right, his legs fresh and his competitive fire is stoked. After Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, a seething Hester motioned for the Vikings to ‘‘bring it on’’ and responded with kickoff returns of 76 and 80 yards. He added a 42-yard return in the fourth quarter — even his third-best kickoff return was the fourth longest in the NFL on Sunday — and averaged 49.8 yards on five kickoff returns, a franchise-record 249 total yards.
‘‘Whenever you get opportunities to make plays, you can showcase your talent,’’ said Hester, who per usual gave due credit to his teammates. ‘‘A lot of people said I lost it because I wasn’t getting the opportunities, so the stats weren’t there. Nowadays, that’s how you get judged as a player. If you don’t have the stats, you’ve lost it. [We got] more touches [against the Vikings], an opportunity to make plays, we were able to get some good returns.’’
It remains to be seen if Hester will be as universally dangerous this season as he has been. As much as he bristles at the notion that he lost it in 2012, the fact of the matter is that with 40 punt-return opportunities last year, he looked lost on many of them and averaged 8.3 yards, ranking 22nd in the NFL. The previous year, he led the NFL with 16.2 yards per return and two touchdowns. In 2010, he led the NFL with 17.1 yards per punt return and three touchdowns.
Even against the Vikings, Hester seemed to miss two punt-return opportunities when he let the ball fall in front of him and bound away. One was downed at the Bears’ 7-yard-line, the other at the 14. And you don’t have to remind him that he used to score on kick returns like the ones he had against the Vikings. He said he thought the Vikings were playing to contain him. Maybe they were. Maybe they weren’t. But he was so upset that he didn’t score on the 80-yarder he didn’t want to talk about it.
That’s good. He needs to stay motivated, fresh and apparently a little angry.
‘‘It’s a great win, but I wish I could have scored on one of the returns,’’ Hester said. ‘‘It’s a long season. We’ve got 14 more games left. Hopefully we’ll get in the end zone by the end of the year.’’