A stunning upset in round three has kept Rashied Davis in the hunt by a single vote, and sent the hometown hero Eric Peterman to the proverbial unemployment line. Devin 'Anytime' Hester has made the case to the fans that Anytime also includes right now, as they have made him the third receiver to make our preferred six man wide receiver grouping.
We're getting down to the nitty gritty here folks, so there is going to be a small change to the way this is going to work. The top three vote getters in this round will be moving on, with the others cast off into the abyss, or maybe the Oakland Raiders. So fight hard for your chosen ones, and we'll see where it all shakes out. Will Davis surprise again? Will Earl Bennett get the respect he deserves? Will Igleasis claw his way onto the field? Will Freddie Barnes prove why he was a Biletnikoff finalist, and the man that broke Randy Moss's MAC record for single-season yardage?
Follow this thread to find out, and follow us below the fold while we take a closer look at Dangerous Devin Hester, and what he brings to the team.
Lovingly referred to as the Windy City Flyer these days, Devin Hester has been sowing seeds of chaos and destruction in the minds of opposing ST coordinators going all the way back to high school. Hester garnered attention all the way back in 2002 at the CaliFlorida Bowl, making people take note of his blazing quickness, acceleration, and having a gear that most other players didn't even know existed, let alone able to use on the field. This was most exemplified by his 85 yard TD kick off return during the game itself, shades of that big game, big time ability he would show again and again, most notably in Super Bowl XLI where he became the first and so-far only player to ever return the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. He's also the holder of the league record for most TD returns in a season.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is that he's got the ability and has proven that he can be the best return man in the league. Only one problem, this is supposed to be about him as a receiver, and that's much more fuzzy.
Hester was the very definition of an all-purpose player in high school, lining up as the aforementioned return man, while also lining up running back, defensive back, and wide receiver. He was a good enough player, and had such unique physical gifts that he was widely regarded as one of the best all-around prospects in the nation and was often ranked as the number one prospect in the state of Florida and somewhere between first and sixth in the nation. He was lined up as much in high school about as much as a rusher as he was a receiver, and was more productive as the rusher by most accounts, and the stat lines.
Once he was in college, it was his return abilities that again shined brightest under the harsher lights. It wasn't that Hester couldn't catch, or play the receiver position, it's just that he was a much better returner. It'd be akin to talking about what a great receiver an offensive lineman is. Sure, he may be called upon to handle a dump pass now and then, but you're generally going to have a guy do what he does best, if they are mutually exclusive. Herein lies the problem, nothing is mutually exclusive with the position of the return man, and in college and to some extent in high school Hester had much more experience and success as a DB than he did on offense. So since in a sense Hester could do it all to one extent or another, it was much easier to work with what seemed to come naturally so Hurricane Hester saw much more time on defense than he did on offense.
That brings us to his career with the Chicago Bears as receiver. It started with a decision that may live in annals of history as one of the best, or one of the worst, but it was made and Hester was permanently moved from DB to WR in 2007. I think everyone remembers the highs and lows that came that year from Hester, from the fantastic heart attack inducing returns, to the abysmal heart attack inducing issues as a receiver including running the wrong route, or at times lining up in the wrong spot entirely. To say there were growing pains would be a huge understatement, but amassing just under 300 yards with a pair of touchdowns at least showed promise going into the next year.
It's at this point that I think the majority of Chicago Bears fans realized that while he may have played WR sporadically in college, it was still basically taking a massive slab of expensive marble that someone was going to turn into one statue, and deciding half way through that we were going to make something different. Hester wasn't exactly raw as a football player, but in a way this made it even worse. The foundation had to be built up from underneath an existing structure, which is a comparatively extremely difficult and time consuming process. Due in large part to this we saw his return ability seemingly disappear overnight, and a tentativeness that hadn't really been there in the past. The word overwhelmed is used far too often, but I think is the most apt for what we saw out of Devin Hester in 2008. For all the problems it caused Hester in the return game though, it's impossible not to note the drastic improvement he made at wide receiver. Anytime more than doubled his previous years total receiving yards, as well as total receptions. Hester went from being the most intimidating return man in the game, to the biggest threat we had at wide receiver. While that may sound like a good trade to some at first glance, it isn't, and it wasn't.
That brings us to last year, a year that was simultaneously full of a lot of disappointment and a lot of hope on all fronts. Jay Cutler was under fire like he was in a hot zone ducking behind sand bags, so Hester's bread and butter deep routes were almost always off the table as a viable option. Despite this, Hester managed to match his TD total from the year prior, as well as tacking on a tad less than 100 yards and 6 receptions over the previous year. The biggest difference though wasn't something you could see on the stat line though, it was the way Hester was playing on the field. He finally looked somewhat comfortable as a wide receiver. He was going up for balls, and more importantly coming down with the balls. He was looking for the yards after catch, and at times looked reminiscent of the looks you would see from him when he was lining up that long touchdown return. In the most succinct terms possible, Hester was beginning to look like they had hoped he would look at wide receiver.
That brings us to this year, and what we can expect out of Dangerous Devin Hester. There was some initial talk about his role in the offense being reduced, but that has since been retracted in large part. With that said though, this is without a doubt a make or break year from Devin Hester as a primary receiver. He will likely always have a place as a part-time receiver, simply because there are very few defensive backs in the league that can cover Hester without safety support over the top. When you add in a guy like Johnny Knox, a guy who some say seems to be a more polished version of Hester as a receiver, you're immediately forced to make some extremely tough choices as far as coverage assignments, and that's before you have Aromashodu, Bennett, or Olsen working the middle of the field.
Will Hester be the number one receiver that Lovie and the front office thought he could be? If not, can Hester return to being the all-world return specialist that he once was, while still retaining the ability to line up wide 10-15 times a game? I have a feeling we're going to be getting a lot of answers in the first few games this season, and opposing teams are going to have a lot of questions as well, namely, how do you stop this guy?
Additional Reading/Scouting Report courtesy of CBSSports
Positives: Has excellent acceleration and timed speed … Shows loose hips and fine change of direction agility to elude defenders in the open … Demonstrates valid hands to extend and pluck the ball, holding on to it securely on returns … Patient letting his wedge develop and has the burst to squeeze through tight quarters to gain big yardage on his runbacks … Can explode through the crowd and has the lateral range to break free, redirect and take the ball to the house … Has natural hands to field the ball cleanly, whether on returns or on interceptions … Has the leaping ability to get to the ball at its high point.
Negatives: Lacks route awareness, as he fails to uncover … Struggles to escape press coverage due to a lack of strength and marginal hand usage … Has marginal courage going for the pass in traffic (plays small), generally losing focus on the ball when he "hears the feet" of defenders closing on him … Poor route-runner who rounds his cuts and gathers at times … Has not really learned how to use his quickness to pop out of cuts to get separation … When not involved in the play, he is quick to throttle down … Shows little desire to face up as a blocker in pass protection (just hangs on and gets rejected too often) … Good leaper, but appears hesitant in attempts to combat for the ball … As a defender, he shows poor tackle technique, attacking at the ankles rather than wrapping up … Relies too much on his speed to recover, allowing too much of a cushion … Has marginal vision, as he bites constantly on play action and misdirection … Seems to get lost trying to locate the ball … Not the type that will come up with aggression when asked to play inside the box … Turns late and will bite and get out of position in man coverage … Struggles to come out of his breaks cleanly as a defensive back (will stumble at times and double step) … Struggled with academics and needs to show better work ethic.