As it stands right now, Devin Hester is a starting wide receiver for the Chicago Bears. I pulled the above quote from Yahoo Sports in the Strategy and Personnel section of the Bears team report, although I have seen the quote in a few other publications so I'm not sure the original source. This is quite a change from earlier Mike Martz quotes. The ones where he compared Hester to his old slot receiver Az-Zahir Hakim and said Hester would be best playing in the slot. Hakim was a real good returner and had 316 career receptions in nine years and a season high in 2000 of 53 catches for 734 yards. Honestly I think it's a fair comparison.
Hakim was never a full time starting receiver in the NFL under Martz, and was known for his speed and return abilities. Martz utilized him most working as a 3rd receiver out of the slot. I'm sure one, or should I say two reasons he stayed as the #3 receiver was Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Those two were real good fits for his offense. Kind of hard to crack the starting lineup with those two ahead on the depth chart. Hester has made his name as a return specialist and as a receiver he has shown flashes, but not the consistency. He still may not put up those #1 wide-out numbers so many experts look for, but he can have a very impactful season.
I still think Hester can be a 1000 yard receiver for the Bears with around 70-80 catches. And with the may Martz moves around his receivers he'll get plenty of chances running out of the slot. The base offense the Bears will run will look similar to the picture below. That formation is set up in the Pro Set or Split Backs formation, a formation that is in the Martz playbook. Now I'm not saying the Bears will come out in this formation all the time, I'm just using it to help explain some terminology. I'll also reference the 2000 Rams Martz playbook from time to time.
Hester and Johnny Knox took reps with the first team at mini camp. Knox lined up at the X receiver and Hester as the Z. In the above picture, the X WR would be to the left lined up on the line of scrimmage (LOS). The X is usually opposite the TE (also called the Y). The Z WR in the pic above is lined up to the right and is off the line of scrimmage. By lining up off the line he's able to go in motion. The Martz playbook would call the above formation "Split Right". The "Split" referring to how the backs line up and the "Right" referring to the strength or where the Y lines up. In the formation above it also tells the FB where to line up (to the right). But remember in a Martz offense the fullback is more often than not called the H-Back, and the halfback is called the runningback. Confused? In the martz playbook the halfback or tailback = R, fullback = H, tight end = Y, the WR off the LOS = Z, the WR on the LOS and usually opposite strength = X.
The Z WR will move around quite a bit, both by going in motion and also by alignment. For example Split Right Wing tells the Z to line up closer to the TE (Y) more like a wingback. Split Right Slot tells the Z to line up between the X and the left tackle in the slot.
On occasion Hester (or the Z) will be on the LOS, this is when he has his Y playing "Off", so Split Right Off would be the exact same as the pic above only with the TE (Y) set back off the line and the Z on the LOS. This will allow Martz to change the strength of the play by motioning his Y across the formation. Many times Martz will have the offense come out in one look then shift to a different look all to give the defense something to think about. From the same Yahoo article:
"As you can see it's a little bit different feel for our offense," Smith said, noting the frequent, pre-snap shifting. "There's a lot more movement. We have a lot of different things that we think we can do using some of our talent offensively. You could see Devin (Hester) in a lot of different roles."
I'm sure once Martz got Hester in camp he changed his tune about using him exclusively in the slot. Seeing him catch the ball with his hands, seeing him in and out of his breaks, seeing him for himself could have got his "Mad Martz" mind working in new and exciting ways.
"He's our starter," Martz said. "I think he's an elite wide receiver. There's no question about that. We've got all kinds of new things for him. We're moving him all over. You'll see him line up anywhere. Shoot, he might line up as a tight end occasionally. Who knows? We'll see."
Moving Hester around is something we just didn't see enough of from former O.C. Ron Turner. I'm sure some of that had to do with Hester being new to the position, but now with him having a much better grasp of his position Martz will reap the benefits.
Moving his guys around is something he'll do a lot of. There is a call in his offense to have any of his players move around anywhere on the field. For the X to play off the LOS, the H-Back to shift to a double TE look, for the running back to split wide... If you can imagine a formation, odds are Martz has a call in his playbook to shift into it. It may sound complicated, but remember it's just formations. The Bears can run the same play from multiple formations. Imagine Martz finding success with a particular play, he could run the same play from about 20 different looks. Multiple formations is one of the staples of the style of offense he runs. It's an offense that dictates to a defense and keeps defenders on their toes.
Getting back to Hester. I'm sure they'll run a few Z reverses, or Z arounds. They'll use the reverse or around "action" (a fake to Hester) to hold linebackers in the run and play-action game. I'm excited to see what Martz will come up with for him and to see how many ways the Bears will get him the ball. I'm sure the cynic will say Lovie Smith is making Martz start Hester, but I'll trust what we're hearing from Martz. For now.