BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) -Chicago Bears kick return star Devin Hester reported to training camp Friday, ending his holdout while negotiations on a new contract continued.
The two-time Pro Bowler has two years left on his deal. Hester, who also played wide receiver last season, skipped the Bears' first two days of practices after watching several teammates get new contracts in the offseason.
A second-round draft pick in 2006, he had said he skipped practices to make a statement that he was serious about a new deal, and that $445,000 a year was not enough money. Hester's financial value is difficult to judge, since he's never started a game on offense and wide receivers earn more than return specialists - even those that dazzle.
Hester thrilled fans with 11 punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns in his first two seasons. He also returned a missed field goal 108 yards in 2006 and ran back the opening kickoff in the 2007 Super Bowl 92 yards for a touchdown.
The Bears eased him in on offense last season, after he initially balked at moving from the defensive backfield, and Hester wound up catching 20 passes for 299 yards.
Now, he's expected to play a bigger role on offense.
The Bears have given new deals this offseason to Lance Briggs, Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher, Desmond Clark and Alex Brown. And on Wednesday they signed this year's first-round pick, Vanderbilt tackle Chris Williams, to a five-year deal reportedly worth $16 million.
The arrival of Hester, who could be fined about $30,000 for missing the first two days, boosted the mood at Bears camp.
``He's definitely a team player,'' fullback Jason McKie said. ``He definitely wanted to be around this team and get back into camp and get back to work. That's the kind of guy he is. ... I think that speaks volumes about his character, coming here even though his contract situation is not resolved.''
McKie said Hester woke him up around 1 a.m. Friday, after arriving at Olivet Nazarene University.
``He was like, 'I'm here,''' McKie said. ``I'm like, 'Man, so what? Go to bed.' But I was happy he was back.''
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner was beaming, too.
``Big smile, big smile, happy he's here,'' he said. ``We're just anxious to get him in the mix.''
Tight end Desmond Clark said, ``It's going to be a big lift. He's the guy who's going to be the offensive jump-starter, the guy making big plays for us. In the return game, he's going to be huge for us. It's good to see him here ... getting the reps that he needs to get so he can be that play-maker that we want him to be.''
He looked lost at times on offense, but there were also flashes of brilliance - like an 81-yard touchdown reception against Minnesota - to convince Chicago that he could play an important role.
``You see what he did in the return game?'' Clark said. ``He can do that for our offense, also.''
He needs practice, though. He needs to master the entire offense, not just the scaled-down version the Bears ran when he was in last season.
``He's come a long way, and a big reason is he's committed to it full time,'' Turner said. ``Last year, the returning part was No. 1 and he played some receiver in a very limited role. We talked in the offseason and the objective was for him to become a full-time receiver. ... He's going to learn the (whole) offense.''

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