|After record-setting rookie year, Hester continues running full speed ahead|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 03 October 2007 13:53|
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -The pile of accolades is growing as high as a Chicago skyscraper. Yet even now, Devin Hester is concerned he'll be remembered as a one-year phenom.|
Seems like wasted energy.
After setting the NFL record with six touchdown returns as a rookie last season for the Chicago Bears, he already has two and was chosen NFC special teams player of the month on Wednesday.
``All the great returners have been one year and then you never hear about them,'' Hester said. ``With the talent that I have, I want to continue at this. I don't want it to be a one-year thing. I'm going to try to work as hard as I can to be the best punt returner, the best kickoff returner, that ever played the game. That's my goal.''
In his second year, he's off to a good start.
Hester is one of the bright spots on a team that is 1-3 heading into Sunday's game at Green Bay after reaching the Super Bowl last season.
He leads the NFL with 602 return yards and is averaging 150.5 per game, 1.5 shy of Michael Lewis' single-season record for New Orleans in 2002. His 239 yards on punt returns lead the league, he ranks sixth with 363 yards on kickoffs, and is the only player to return a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown.
If there's a knock on Hester, it's this: too many drops. He leads the league with four fumbled returns. But few in his position have made an impact like this.
No wonder Bears kicker Robbie Gould said with a sheepish grin, ``Kick to him. Why not?''
Gould then asked a serious question: ``Why would you?'' To him, the answer is ego.
``Somebody wants to shut him down,'' Gould said. ``That's the goal for a lot of teams. Everyone, if you're defending him, has to do their job. Unfortunately, some teams haven't done it that well and we've taken advantage of it.''
San Diego did everything it could to avoid Hester in the season opener and won 14-3. Kickoffs went nowhere near him, and punts sailed so high that he had no choice but to call a fair catch. He ran one kickoff back for 29 yards and did not have a punt return against the Chargers.
A week later, Kansas City went at him and paid.
Hester scored on a 73-yard punt return in the second quarter and set up a field goal in the third with another long return, leading the Bears to a 20-10 victory over the Chiefs.
In last week's 37-27 loss to Detroit, he had a combined 314 return yards. That included a 97-yard touchdown, his eighth, tying Gale Sayers' club record.
Even so, the Bears see room for improvement.
``We expect a lot out of Devin,'' said Brendon Ayanbadejo, a Pro Bowl pick on special teams last season. ``In the first four games, we left three touchdowns on the field so we expect more out of him.''
One was a holding penalty in the Kansas City game that wiped out a 95-yard touchdown return, and Ayanbadejo said Hester made the wrong cut on several returns against the Lions.
``You can't just say, 'Ayanbadejo said that Hester's leaving touchdowns on the field,''' he said. ``To complete the comment, there are a couple times where he shouldn't have scored where he did score.''
Much was made in the preseason of Hester taking snaps at wide receiver, but he has just one reception, a 3-yard catch against Detroit. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner reiterated he would like to get Hester more involved, and Hester made it clear that would be just fine with him.
``It's a little frustrating, but everyone knows what their role is on the team,'' Hester said. ``When my opportunity comes, I hope I'll be able to step up to the challenge and make the best of it.''
It was an opportunity Hester did not want a year ago. He gradually came around, though, and Turner was so impressed during training camp that he even compared Hester to Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith.
The Bears envisioned a more balanced offense, with a deep set of receivers led by Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian and a quarterback - Rex Grossman - who now had a full season as a starter. Instead, the plan unraveled.
Brian Griese replaced Grossman. The running game stalled. The receivers dropped too many passes. And that explains why the offense ranks 30th.
Meanwhile, Hester waits for his turn while wreaking havoc on returns.
``If you dwell on things, it affects other phases of your ballgame,'' Hester said. ``Hey, if I'm not on offense, whenever my opportunity comes on the kickoff or punt return I'm going to do the best I can.''
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