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Bears boast Devin Hester, but they’re wary of DeSean Jackson

DeSean Jackson

DeSean Jackson

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Updated: December 6, 2011 8:28AM

When Chris Conte played at California, teammate DeSean Jackson was the best kick returner he had ever seen.

In Conte’s first college game in 2007, Jackson returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown against 15th-ranked Tennessee, and Conte had the honor of providing the finishing block. It was Jackson’s sixth touchdown in 27 career punt returns. He was the Devin Hester of college football.

Jackson has been nearly as dangerous in the NFL. A second-round draft pick (49th overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008, he had four punt returns for touchdowns in his first three seasons. In 2009, he became the first player in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl at two different positions, wide receiver and kick returner.

But as good as Jackson is as a kick returner, Conte knows there’s only one Hester.

‘‘DeSean Jackson and [Hester], I think, are the two best return guys in the game,’’ Conte said. ‘‘They both have incredible speed to make anyone miss. It’s exciting to block for them because you want to be a part of something unique. And anytime they touch the ball, it can be a touchdown. But I think we’ve got the better guy. [Hester’s] on another level for sure.’’

Conte is a Bears starting safety now. But he was on the kickoff team for Hester’s 73-yard return against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 2 at Soldier Field.

‘‘I think it’s his vision that separates him,’’ Conte said. ‘‘[The ability] to see the return and know where the hole’s going to be — that ability to get small in holes and be able to shake and keep somebody from bringing you down. It’s definitely something nobody else has. He’s definitely on a different level than everybody else.’’

With Hester and Jackson on the field, special teams will play a big part in the Bears-Eagles game Monday in Philadelphia. Hester already has a punt and kickoff return for a touchdown this season. Jackson is averaging just 5.3 yards on eight returns this season. But Bears special-teams coach Dave Toub has shown his players the tape of Jackson’s stunning 65-yard punt-return touchdown as time ran out to give the Eagles a 38-31 victory over the New York Giants last December.

‘‘He’s very dangerous,’’ said Toub, whose punt return unit is No.  1 in the NFL (4.6 yards allowed per return). ‘‘You don’t have to go back far to find big-time returns. We showed the Giants return again, where he dropped it and picked it up and ran it for a touchdown and won the game for them. He’s so dangerous. He’s the most explosive returner we’ll face this year. Our guys are very aware of that.’’

Hester is just as dangerous and can strike at any time. You just never know when.

But he has a knack for the spotlight. Eight of his 18 career return touchdowns have come in prime-time games. And the Eagles have a rookie punter in Chas Henry. Last year, Giants rookie Matt Dodge fired a line-drive punt to Jackson on the final play of the game. He’s still looking for work in the NFL.

‘‘I hope [Hester] keeps it up,’’ Toub said of Hester’s prime-time success. ‘‘He can do it at any time. Monday he just has a little more juice sometimes. He knows everybody’s watching. That plays a part in it. Everybody plays a little bit harder on Monday night.’’

But when it comes to his return touchdowns, Hester doesn’t count them or analyze them. Monday night is just another opportunity to do what he does better than

‘‘I treat ’em all the same,’’ he said.

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