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Wednesday, August 17

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Bears Mon Sep 16 2013

Devin Hester Proves Roster Spot Matters For Bears

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for GB bears icon.pngDevin Hester will get strong consideration for the Hall of Fame once his career is over. He's the career leader in punt returns for touchdowns (12) along with combined return touchdowns (18, which includes five kick returns and a field goal return), and his direct impact on games used to strike fear in minds of countless coaches.

But that was the old NFL -- back when strict concussion policies and penalties for hitting defenseless receivers and blindsiding quarterbacks were turned into "Jacked Up" video montages on ESPN. Now the league is doing everything it can short of flat-out eliminating the kickoff return. All in the name of player safety.

With kickoffs moved up to the 35-yard-line, the number of touchbacks has skyrocketed in the NFL to the point of near extinction for a return specialist. Spots on the 53-man roster (and 45-man gameday roster) are incredibly valuable, and if your only contribution is returning kicks and punts, you better create a sense of danger to the opposition.

That's exactly what Hester did yesterday.

Hester set a team record for most kickoff return yards in a game (249), and put the Bears in short fields in response to a pair of Vikings touchdowns. His presence standing at the goal line also prompted Minnesota's kicking team to pooch a kick to Joe Anderson for the Bears' game-winning drive, giving them solid starting field position at 34-yard-line.

All of this seemed impossible nearly nine months ago. After Lovie Smith was fired, Hester was nearly inconsolable. He threatened retirement after the only head coach he ever played for in the NFL was being let go. He also knew that Dave Toub, the only special teams coordinator to guide him in the pros, was likely out too. Hester hadn't returned a punt for a touchdown since 2011, and was seeing his career as a terrorizing figure to opponents slip away.

In came Marc Trestman, who told Hester that he'd no longer be used on offense, and would strictly be deployed as a return specialist. It was a simple decision. Hester was devastating when that role was his only focus early in his career, and betting on that being the case again was logical.

He still struggles with the idea of running forward to field punts, but if that's the only down side, he's more than earned his spot. Wins are tough to come by in the NFL, and having his type of affect on just three or four games could be the difference between January football and the search for answers in what will be crucial offseason for the Bears' future.

There will be many games where Hester won't be a factor. When kicks go through the back of the endzone, he can do nothing but watch. But the weather was bad enough yesterday that most boots were falling more than 10 yards short of where they typically would. Queue the highlight reel.

It's Chicago -- there will be many more where that came from. "Bear Weather", as the locals like to say.

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