CHICAGO - AUGUST 21: Devin Hester #23 of the Chicago Bears catches a pass during warm-ups before a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at Soldier Field on August 21 2010 in Chicago Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
I'd say that WCG had a chance to catch up with Devin Hester on Friday, but there's no catching up to the man. Hester, however, was nice enough to slow down for a bit and chat with me at an event promoting the new Nike NFL gear at Dick's Sporting Goods in Lombard. Fly your way below the fold to get all the juicy details about the new look for the NFL, Johnny Knox's recovery, Hester's role in the Tice offense, and how Marshall has been doing since signing with the Bears.Despite the chill, the place was fairly packed on Friday. And while I was worried that I was going to miss the second round of the draft during the event, they thankfully had two TVs set to ESPN. Another great #23 for the Bears, Jerry Azumah, was on hand to MC the event, and Hester hit the stage just as the Bears were drafting Alshon Jeffery. Hester and Azumah walked the crowd through a typical OTA day: an early breakfast, conditioning from 8-10, and 1-on-1 work with the QBs from 10-12. They touched on the many benefits of the new Nike gear - Hester's of the opinion that "if you want to go fast, you've got to put your Nikes on" - and Azumah talked Hester up as a future Hall of Famer to huge cheers from the crowd. Hester gave some insight into what goes on in the WR team meetings, saying that their biggest goal for this season is consistency: From Week 1 on, they've got their eyes on Championship-level play.
After the public's Q-and-A was over, me and Jon Greenberg from ESPNChicago got to talk to Hester backstage. On the new jerseys, Hester said that "it's a proven fact that everyone likes Nikes," that he'll be harder to take down in the slicker fabric, and that the jerseys just feel faster. In an ironic twist, we had to bring the news to Hester that the Bears had just traded up to draft a wide receiver, a pick Hester was happy with: he said that "we need at least five or six solid receivers in this type of offense... we knew we were going into this draft to get a receiver. We know that we need another guy. In this game, guys get hurt left and right: you've got to preserve your players and alternate in and out." There's no better proof of this statement than the injured Johnny Knox, but Hester had some good news about his recovery. Knox is out of his brace, getting back into running, and has been cleared to lift weights. While "it's going to be some time with Johnny," Hester hopes "that we get him back soon."
Expanding on the topic of player safety, we talked about the new NFL kickoff rules. Hester, of course, is no fan: he said that if the NFL takes away kickoffs, "It's pretty much going to ruin the game. In an situation with an onside kick, what would you do at that point? A team scores a touchdown with 40 seconds to go on the clock, how are they going to get the ball back if they need it? If that phase of the game is going to be taken out... the game would be pointless once a team gets up." Hester admits the upside, saying that "I heard it prevented a lot of concussions, but that's the only thing you can look at. As players, we want to give the fans what they want to see, and returns are one of the exciting points of the game. You start taking away that, you're pretty much taking the fun out of football."
The two big stories from Halas Hall this off-season were the change from Mike Martz to Mike Tice and the trade for Brandon Marshall, and Hester couldn't be happier about either. He said that he "loves" Tice, who "brings a lot of energy and excitement to our offense: not only to us as players, but as people. You get a coach whose more sociable to you and the players, and it makes you want to give more effort to a coach who's as energized as you are." Hester cut into the question about Marshall, immediately saying he's going to be a "big help. Brandon's a guy that teams are really going to have to key in on, and it's going to open up a lot for other guys. When guys start making plays, and double coverage rolls over on them, that's when Brandon goes into beast mode. And with the offense we're putting together, it's going to be hard to double team or play Cover 2, because we've got two great running backs that are just going to run it down their throat. I'm hoping that this team is going to be a very exciting offense that can put up a lot of points."
But what will Hester's role be in this offense? He gave a big smile and said that he's going to be a "playmaker. I'm going to make big plays - that's what I'm here for." He's not worried about playing time, since "It's going to be hard to match us up, and everyone will get their share. There's going to be one game where one guy will catch over 15 balls, and the next week it'll be another guy. It'll be hard to shut this team down... Where we had problems [last year], where teams could say 'Let's take this guy out of the game,' and we stunk. But now, we're filling in the pieces of the puzzle. You can't gameplan on us."
Hester's also taken a leadership role, at least with Brandon Marshall. He's been hanging out with Marshall outside of Halas Hall, and him and Hester "Shoot pool, and he's more into the spiritual... we talk about Jesus, the Bible, and he's changing his life a lot. I can honestly say that: he's a changed man from the past. Everyone makes mistakes, but by giving him a second chance, he's really changing his life around."
It was a fashion event, after all, so I had to find out one last thing: who is the Bear with the most swag? Hester said that he'll "have to see what the new guys are looking like," but until then, he claims the title: "I'm leaning swag right now." Get yourself a new NFL Nike jersey, and you can have a bit of that swag for yourself.