How Should the Bears Utilize Devin Hester This Season?
Today is the final preseason game for the Chicago Bears, and Devin Hester will probably not even be on the field. The infamous 'Devin Package' has yielded a grand total of just five touches for 65 yards.
But that really isn't a big surprise. Chicago would be foolish to bring out their entire bag of tricks during the preseason. These games are more about the supporting cast rather than the superstars, especially today.
But we've seen enough of the offense to have an idea of how Hester will be used this season. Here are some ideas of how the Bears will take advantage of his skills this season.
Split out Opposite Brandon Marshall
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With Brandon Marshall now Chicago's clear No. 1 receiver, the Bears can stop trying to cram Hester into the No. 1 role. Hester has great physical talents, and he's fast as heck, but he's not a true No. 1 wide receiver.
With defenses rolling coverage to Marshall's side of the field, that leaves Hester to line up against the weaker defenders that will have to give him additional space. He'll be able to use his speed to stretch the field or use the bigger cushion to run medium curls where he can catch the ball and spin away for bigger plays.
With defenses focused on Marshall, Hester can also run the short bubble screen where Jay Cutler dumps the ball to him immediately after the snap. The key is to get the ball into his hands where he can work one-on-one against a defender. If he can make the guy miss, an eight-yard play can become a 20-yard play.
Hester out of the Slot
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As Alshon Jeffery continues to mature, he will probably replace Hester as the No. 2 receiver in the offense. This will allow Hester to move into the slot, where he will be running shorter routes down the middle of the field.
From the slot, Hester will be running shorter routes that are designed to get him the ball quickly. In many cases, he'll be facing linebackers who won't be able to keep up with him or working against the safety who will also be keeping an eye on the run.
Working from the slot emphasizes Hester's best asset: speed. It also minimizes some of his shortcomings such as questionable route running and his weakness in fighting the defender for the ball.
From the slot, he'll be able to catch the ball quickly and while moving at full speed. If he can make a defender miss, it will be off to the races.
Running the Ball Around the End
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For one brief moment against the New York Giants last week, we saw Hester run the ball. Before the snap, Hester came in motion into the backfield, and as the ball was snapped, Jay Cutler tossed it to Hester.
Devin took off like he was shot from a gun, taking advantage of the pass rush that was focused on Jay. Hester reached the outside corner with the Giants in pursuit, but he had two steps on everyone.
He exploded up the field for a big 19-yard gain. Expect to see at least one or two attempts each game like this from Hester this season and one or two where they fake it to him and run a play-action pass down the field to someone else.
Returning Punts and Kicks
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Eric Weems is on the team and will certainly see his fair share of kicks and punts. Lorenzo Booker is working against Armando Allen for the final running back spot, and Booker proved he can return kicks as well when he took a kickoff 105 yards down the field for a touchdown.
But none of them are Devin Hester. You can bet that as his role in the offense switches from every-down receiver to more of a specialist role, Hester will still be very active on kick and punt returns.