How Devin Hester Went from Most Feared Returner to Virtual Afterthought

Ross Read@@RossReadContributor IIIJune 10, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 09: Devin Hester #23 of the Chicago Bears carries the ball after making a reception against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field on December 9, 2012 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

There was a point in time not too long ago when Devin Hester was the most feared weapon in the NFL. Now he's a misguided player looking to regain the magic that made him great. He can return to form, but it will require more mental ability than his great physical talent. 

By now we know the accolades Hester brings to the table. He's a three-time Pro Bowl player who has the most special teams touchdowns of all time with 18. Of his returns, 12 came on punt returns—which is an NFL record—five came on kick offs and one was a 108-yard return off a missed field goal against the New York Giants

His signature highlight came as a rookie during the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl back in 2007. Who could forget Jim Nantz's voice raise with every yard gained or Jeff Joniak on the radio screaming "Devin Hester you are ridiculous!"

Hester's demise started in 2008 when he signed his new contract and began to play wide receiver. By the time Jay Cutler showed up a season later, he was the de facto No. 1 receiver—a huge mistake. 

In 2010 Hester had another All-Pro season but reverted back to mediocrity the year after and has stayed there ever since. He had 12 touchdowns on special teams in his first two seasons. Since 2008 he has had just six. 

What made Hester so great was his ability to get the football and just run. He is at his best when he relies on his instincts. Putting a playbook and new responsibilities on his shoulders was too much for a man who was too proud to tell people he couldn't handle it.

If there is blame to be delivered it goes to the former Bears' brass and not on Hester. The most electrifying player in football was within his right back in 2008 to want a new contract, but it was his general manager and coach who let him down by forcing a role too big on him to justify the money. 

In hindsight, it was a huge mistake to force Hester into a role he was never ready for. It was done out of fear of what the media and fans would think as well as trying to squeeze every drop out of a player. 

While Hester was a wide receiver, he had no brilliant offensive mind to help him through the process. Remember he played cornerback at the University of Miami. It is a failure of epic proportions to have a player change positions without having somebody viable bring him up to speed. 

Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice and even Lovie Smith did Hester a disservice. Nobody should be shocked Marc Trestman comes on the scene and immediately identifies Hester as just a return man. 

Trestman knows he still has a valuable weapon in Hester. Taking the pressure of knowing an offensive set off his plate will go a long way towards getting Hester back to his old form. He's only 30 years old, and the speed is still there. Let the confidence and instincts awaken, and he's very dangerous again.

All it takes is one.

One coach or punter arrogant enough to kick it down the middle to him. One key block to spring him free and one touchdown to get him back on track. Home-run hitters get their long balls in bunches; return men are no different.

There's still some magic left in Devin Hester. Before he takes off his Bears jersey for the last time, Hester will have amassed 20 career touchdowns on special teams. Don't close the book on him just yet, he still has the chance to be "ridiculous."