Bears' Hester Producing on Offense
Next game: Monday, December 22nd at Chicago
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -- The Chicago Bears were looking for a big return when they gave Devin Hester a bigger role on offense.
Lately, they're getting it.
After two record-setting seasons returning punts and kickoffs, Hester finally is starting to deliver on offense the way the Bears envisioned.
"I'm starting to feel like my old self, making plays," Hester said.
He came through in a big way against New Orleans last week and the Bears hope he does it again when Green Bay visits on Monday night, whether they're still in playoff contention or not.
Hester provided plenty during the Bears' 27-24 win over the Saints even though his numbers weren't exactly the head-turning kind.
He caught four passes for 46 yards, yet he took perhaps his biggest steps in a season where his progress at times seemed stalled. Three times he got open deep down the middle, and not once did he catch the ball. Even so, he made his biggest marks in those moments.
The first time he broke free, Kyle Orton slung a line drive just beyond a lunging Hester's fingertips. On the other two, Hester drew crucial pass-interference penalties to set up a touchdown and the winning field goal.
The Bears had a third down on the New Orleans 44 midway through the second quarter when Orton again heaved the ball to Hester, who was in position to make the catch near the goal line before Jason David grabbed him. That put the ball on the 5 and Matt Forte ran it in two plays later to give Chicago a 14-7 lead.
Hester wasn't finished, though. He drew another interference call in overtime, setting up the winning field goal.
This time, the Bears had a third down at their 46 when Hester got bumped by Roman Harper down the middle, putting the ball on the Saints 15.
"They were in a coverage that was going to be tough, and he did a great job of setting the guy up," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "A few weeks ago, I'm not sure he would have been open like that. That says a lot about his ability to adjust and just run routes and, obviously, his speed."
It's easy to see why the Bears decided to give Hester a four-year contract extension and a bigger role on offense after giving him limited snaps there last year. After all, he ran back 11 punts or kickoffs for touchdowns in his first two years to move within two of the NFL record, and that number does not include a missed field goal he ran back 108 yards or his dash to the end zone on the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl two years ago.
It's also easy to why -- fair or not -- critics say the Bears turned a special player into an average receiver, given the way he has struggled on offense and special teams.
The familiar burst after fielding kickoffs and punts disappeared. Hester seemed hesitant. Teams started kicking to him, rather than do all they could to avoid him, and ultimately, Danieal Manning assumed his role returning kickoffs.
On offense, Hester has disappeared at times. Not lately, though.
The team leader with 568 yards receiving, he has been at his best the past few games.
He delivered five catches for 80 yards against Jacksonville two weeks ago and turned a short slant into a 65-yard touchdown against Minnesota in the previous game.
"When you've seen what he can do on special teams and then when people thought about him as a receiver, they just automatically thought it was going to transfer over," tight end Desmond Clark said. "But there are a lot more things that go into playing receiver than meets the eye -- like, first of all, you've just got to know the offense. It takes a while to get that."
Clark compared it to learning a foreign language, only Hester is studying under a larger microscope. And he's doing it after bouncing around on offense, defense and special teams in college at Miami and playing a limited role on defense as a rookie.
"It's got to be rough when you go through college being flip-flopped around, and you get to the NFL and get flip-flopped around," Clark said. "But from last year to this year, it's a huge difference. He knows the play book, for one. He's not out there thinking about what he has to do; he's just playing. So that's the biggest difference. He can go out and just let his athletic ability take over instead of thinking about what he's got to do and thinking about the adjustments."
Note: FB Jason McKie will miss his fourth straight game with a quadriceps injury.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)