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Scout's Notebook: Bears PR-WR Devin Hester

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Posted Sept. 29, 2010 @ 3:01 p.m. ET
By Nolan Nawrocki

WR-RS Devin Hester
Chicago Bears
Height
: 5-10 5⁄8  Weight: 190 Speed: 4.41

Notes: Married with a son, Devin, Jr. Florida prep was one of the most highly recruited players in the nation after earning All-America honors in football (Parade, USA Today) and track. As a senior, scored 21 touchdowns and gained more than 27 yards per catch and nearly 11 yards per carry while seeing action at receiver, running back, quarterback and kick returner. Was part of the 2002 signing class, but failed to qualify academically and did not debut for the Hurricanes until '03. Played 32 games over three seasons (2003-05) and was used at cornerback, running back, receiver and kick returner — totaled 10 receptions for 196 yards (19.6-yard average) and 24 carries for 160 yards (6.7) and a touchdown. Made his mark on special teams by gaining 23.6 yards per kickoff return and 15.7 yards per punt return with six career touchdowns (four punts, two kickoffs). Also won the '04 Big East Conference indoor long-jump championship as a member of Miami's track and field team. Opted to forgo his senior season and was selected by the Bears in the second round (57th overall) of the '06 draft. Burst onto the scene as a rookie — played all 16 games and led the NFL in punt-return yards (600) and the NFC in kickoff return average (26.4) while notching five touchdowns (three punts, two kickoffs), including a 92-yard score on the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl, an NFL first. Added a 108-yard missed field-goal return against the Giants. Made the Pro Bowl as a return man for the second consecutive season in '07 — was the NFC's leading punt returner with 42-651 (15.5), including four touchdowns, and racked up 43-934 (21.7) on kickoff returns, including two scores. His six total kick-return scores established an NFL single-season record. Also transitioned to receiver, snagging 20-299-2 (15.0) in 16 games, which helped him tie a league record for touchdowns of 50-plus yards (eight). His 12 return scores in the 2006-07 seasons are the most ever in consecutive years. Played 28 games (20 starts) over the course of 2008-09, totaling 108-1,422-6 (13.2) to pace Bears receivers while contributing 38-835-0 (22.0) on kickoffs and 56-385-0 (6.9) punts. In three starts in 2010, currently ranks sixth on the team in receptions in Mike Martz's new offense with 6-110-0 (18.3) and is gaining 11.7 yards on nine punt returns with one TD. Is signed through 2013 on a contract that includes $15 million guaranteed.

Positives: Is loose-hipped, extremely athletic and fluid-moving and has game-changing ability when he touches the ball in the open field. Possesses rare acceleration and traffic burst and can reach top-end speed in the blink of an eye. Good peripheral vision and feel in space — has a knack for setting up blocks. Outstanding competitive speed — does not get caught from behind once he finds a crease.  Can make difficult catches look easy — see one-handed TD grab in Week Two in Dallas — and extend outside his frame to pluck the ball out of the air.

Negatives: Has been slow to process an NFL offense and needs very simple assignments and patient coaching to excel. Is not a precise route runner and has a tendency to drift. Cannot easily be trusted to align properly, read coverage and fit where he is supposed to. Does not have consistent hands and will double-catch the ball as often as he makes the rare, acrobatic grab. Exercised questionable judgment fielding the ball early in career, and regressed as a returner following the Super Bowl loss to the Colts after being asked to do too much on offense.

Summary: Immediately emerged as a game-breaking, superstar return talent his first two years in the league, shining on one of the NFL's most consistent special-teams units and carrying a sputtering offense without its starting quarterback. Made little impact following the Super Bowl after being converted from CB to WR position. After being overloaded with learning offensive concepts from 2008-09, Hester has begun to re-emerge in the return game, taking back a punt for a 62-yard TD against Green Bay in Week Three, ending a hibernation of more than two seasons from the endzone as a returner. Is not well-suited to handle the complexity of Mike Martz's offense despite possessing freakish open-field run skills that served Marshall Faulk so well in St. Louis, yet has grown more comfortable in his role as a receiver.

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