Devin Hester has the ability to score any time he touches the football. He has been dubbed "The Windy City Flyer" for his unparalleled speed and athleticism.
However, with little experience at the wide receiver position, how far will his athleticism take him?
Hester came into the league primarily as a return specialist in 2006. He was very athletic and had blazing speed. Immediately, he put fear into opposing special teams coaches. Notably from the 2006 season, Hester returned a punt for a touchdown on Monday Night Football against the Arizona Cardinals.
This is significant because it sparked one of the most memorable post-game press conference meltdown by a coach. Denny Green let off the forever-heralded quote: "They are who we thought they were, and we let em' off the hook."
Hester tallied five touchdown returns (three punt, two kick) on the season not including his return of the opening kick off in Super Bowl XLI. Despite losing the game, Hester's return of the opening kick for a touchdown was the first in Super Bowl History.
In 2007 Hester's success continued, as he had six returns for touchdowns. At one point in the season, a report determined a 132 percent increase in kicks out of bounds by coaches trying to kick away from Devin Hester.
Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli placed such a strong emphasis on kicking away from Hester that he said, "Kick the ball into Lake Michigan and make sure that it sinks to the bottom."
Hester finished his second season at No. 4 on the All-Time list for kick return touchdowns behind Brian Mitchell (13), Eric Metcalf (12), and Dante Hall (12).
He also had 20 receptions for 399 yards, but was used mainly as a decoy. His athleticism couldn't be matched and he was virtually unstoppable in the return game. Hester wanted to be on the offensive side of the ball.
The Bears would lose Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammed, and have nobody to step in. Hester would see his role increased on offense. The Bears picked up Brandon Lloyd in Free Agency to start along with Rashied Davis.
Even after picking up the inconsistent Lloyd from Washington, the Bears were still at a huge disadvantage with lack of experience at WR. Lloyd performed well, but after an injury in Week Four, Hester would be given his first start at wide receiver.
He would catch five passes for 66 yards. Hester wasn't anywhere near Pro Bowl-caliber, but he was definitely starting to show small steps towards overall improvement. In his first two years, Hester was easily the best returner in the game of football, but in 2008 he saw no touchdowns on kick or punt returns.
Lovie Smith went on to say it was because Hester had his plate full between returns and playing wide receiver. The Bears needed to find a happy medium between the two for Hester. His returns would decrease after averaging 6.2 yards a return. Hester seemed to be rattled at returns and often try to do too much.
Hester would finish the season by losing his kick return duties to Daniel Manning. Hester did have 51 receptions for 665 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first season in which he did not record a return touch down. His athleticism is still at the same level, yet his increased role on offense took a toll on his return duties.
Hester played very little wide receiver in college, yet he is a starting wide receiver at the highest level of professional football. His athleticism and speed has done this for him. Hester very well may end up a Pro Bowl wide receiver.
As you read that last sentence you may be questioning my sanity. I have a question for you.
Have you heard of Steve Smith? Steve Smith was a kick/punt returner for the Carolina Panthers before emerging as a top-tier player in the league. That may be a long shot, but Hester's athleticism will only contribute to his success at the position.
Hester lacks the ideal 6'6'' frame with a huge vertical leap, however he makes it up in blazing speed and agility. Expect big things from Hester in the future in all aspects of his game.
There is a reason why his nickname in college was "Anytime"—because he can score anytime he touches the ball.
Rush - VSN Writer