Devin Hester: Why the Experiment Should Be Officially Ended
Since 2007, the Chicago Bears have attempted to remake Devin Hester into a receiver.
It's time to call this experiment expired—time of death 4:37 pm EST, November 21, 2012.
To be fair, the Bears have downgraded expectations over time. It started out as "Hester will be a premier wide receiver," shifted down to "big-time playmaker" and now might just be "really solid threat."
He still can't hit those markers, though, no matter how they try.
It's easy to see why the team decided to play mad scientist here. Hester is a track star, possessing phenomenal athletic skills, incredible speed and big-play ability when he gets the ball in his hands.
All that natural talent is on display every time some idiot coach decides that THIS TIME Hester won't run it back on the team and kicks or punts it to him.
However, being even a decent wide receiver takes far more than speed, and of course you need to get the ball in your hands to be a threat with it at all.
I went through this during the Summer Olympics when Usain Bolt showed ridiculous amounts of speed and more than one person claimed he would make a terrific wide receiver—hat you can teach the position but you can't teach speed.
Which is a load of bunk—not that you can team superhuman speed because you can't, but that anyone can learn to be a receiver.
Hester is living proof of this.
You need only glance at the stats below (provided by NFL.com) to see that he's just not getting it done.
The question is, why? He's barely being used right now, and you can point to that as a reason his numbers are unimpressive, but really it's the reverse.
Hester isn't being used because he's not worth having in the field as a receiver.
With Alshon Jeffery back last week, Hester was on the field a mere 32 percent (or 19 snaps) of the offensive plays. Jeffery was on the field for 44 percent (or 26 snaps) of the plays.
That was with Jeffery leaving again due to a knee injury and missing a chunk of the game.
Even with Jeffery out, Hester doesn't stand out. I thought early on that the Bears had found a route or two Hester was excelling at—a nice stop-and-go which asked him to do one simple cut and then allowed his speed to create separation.
As he ran up against better secondaries, though, those routes worked less and less.
The problem is really simple, at it's heart. Hester cannot run the route tree, and worse, the simple routes they ask him to do are not run well.
Take, for example, this week's game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Sure, the playbook was limited because the quarterback's skills were limited. Backup Jason Campbell did his best "checkdown charlie" impersonation, and really offensive coordinator Mike Tice didn't seem to have any interest in stretching the field anyway, especially once the offensive line was fully exposed.
Still, what little they asked Hester to do was not done well.
On both of his catches he was asked to run a short out, and while he made the catches, even those short routes were choppy and far from clean.
Hester has never been a sharp route runner and often rounds out his cuts and is slow coming out of the breaks.
One of his worst routes of the day resulted in an interception.
Now, let's acknowledge how bad Campbell looked, and that he had his share of blame for the pass, which was slow coming out of his hand and took its time getting to Hester as well.
That said, it was a pretty bad effort on the route.
Looking at the screen cap below, Hester begins his cut at about the 50 yard line. He's leaning pretty far back as he stops, which isn't the greatest technique and slows him down as he makes his cut.
On the next frame, Hester has moved towards the sideline, but his turn is rounded out and Niners cornerback Tarrell Brown is actually in better position than Hester is.
Worse, on the next frame you can see Hester completely outmuscled by Brown, who just bulls his way around Hester to the ball where he makes the interception.
For a better look at how slow and rounded that turn is, check out the video below.
This is a consistent problem for Hester and has been for years.
While Hester can be dangerous with a ball in his hands, he's not consistently because he doesn't get the ball in his hands.
That speed and elusiveness is all fine and dandy but not very useful when he doesn't get the ball.
The only way I can see this working is the same way the Packers use Randall Cobb or the Jets use Jeremy Kerley—line them up in the backfield, do some direct snaps and do anything else creative to get them the ball.
Unfortunately Hester does not have the wide receiver skills they have—not even close.
At the end of the season, I think it's time to call this what it is—a nice idea that never panned out. The Bears need to concentrate on developing some actual receivers who have both speed and actual receiver skills, not try to continue to force this square peg into a round hole.
They've got Alshon Jeffery (or will when he's healthy) and that's a good start.
They need to add pieces, not spend more energy on an experiment which isn't working.
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