Chicago Sun-Times

Prime Time: Hester needs better blocking

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Based on his past performances, Devin Hester would have about three return touchdowns by this point in the season.

He entered the year averaging a score every 13.8 returns and has yet to have one with 33 returns (20 kickoff, 13 punt) this season, fueling speculation for weeks that he is in a slump. His mentor Deion Sanders said the slump is on the special teams unit, though, not the return man.

"You should be worried about the 10 guys is blocking for Devin Hester," Sanders said Thursday in a visit with Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman on ESPN-1000. "That should be your concern. Devin, I think he's been doing well as a receiver. You really need to give him the ball a little more. I think he had his breakout game against the Atlanta Falcons. He looked great and he just needs more opportunities. As far as the return game, I think you're looking at different faces on the return unit that's normally blocking for him because Devin hadn't forgotten how to run, how to maneuver at all.''

Sanders was asked if the Bears are giving Hester too much to do. The plan coming into the season was for him to get five or more touches per game on offense and that has not materialized. While he's second among wide receivers on the team with 22 catches, he's had just 24 touches (2 rushes) in his seven games or 3.4 per game.

"Not whatsoever,'' Sanders said. "Because normally after a return you pretty much get a commercial break. Normally, there is a pause when the change of units come back on the field so your getting a chance to relax a bit until you go onto your regular unit, offensively or defensively. I think Devin just needs his touches, you need to figure out a way to really get him the ball but As far as his return production that is not totally based on Devin's inadequacy that's based on the 10 guys blocking for him. You can only be as good as those 10 guys in front of you.''

So, he's not being tentative in his approach?

"See, I study film man,'' Sanders said. "You gotta go back and look at the film and then look at holes that he has to hit. Devin can still make one or two or three guys miss but you gotta understand those initial guys is a whole different return unit and they are not given the freedom to make decisions. His decisions are being forced too early, too prematurely. Therefore, he is running into crowds.''

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18 Comments

So should we give the ST blockers from the previous two years the credit for Devin's returns rather than Devin?

I disagree with Deion Sanders, blocking is not the reason for Devin Hesters slump, great point by Kt, couldn't of said it better myself. The amount of touches is part of the reason, but what people don't realize is, Devin Hester is running up and down the field on every snap as a receiver, ball in his hand or not. Try running up and down a football field, then being asked to return a punt on the very next play, its not that easy. Hester is a great player, but the guy is only human. I feared this was going to happen in the off-season when the Bears were talking about giving Hester more reps at receiver, there by leaving hester on the field longer wearing him down. I didn't realize Hester was going to be as good of a receiver as he has become, Hester should only get better at wideout. I think Devin Hester the receiver is much better for the Bears in the long run. Next season I can see Devin Hester flanked by Earl Bennett at receiver for the Bears. As far as a future return man, I think Chicago should draft a speed back to return the ball and complement Matt Forte, just my opinion GO BEARS!!

Kevin you have no idea what your talking about. This is not a linbacker or lineman we are talking about. The kid on every return has had people in his face. The blocking has really dwindled in the last year. The loss of several main stay players on SP to other teams and players moving up to starting positions has really effected what is going on. They have yet to find that leader on SP. Toub talked about this in the pre season. The loss of Brandon A. and Todd Johnson have never really been filled. Wolfe has come up on coverage of SP , but the blockers never yet stepped it up. I will agree with Hester being a threat on offense, But to say he is tired cause running up and down the field is ludicris. He runs one play and is off, maybe run 2 and is off. Watch the Games and you will see.

Deion Sanders is wrong about something else, though I agree that the blocking has not been as good this year. What Sanders doesn't say is that Hester is not the brightest bulb in the room, to quote one of his coaches, and asking him to learn the receiver position while continuing to return kicks and punts is obviously too much for him. He's thinking, or at least trying to, instead of playing when he catches punts and kickoffs. Wide receiver is a far more important position than return man. What the Bears should do is drop him from the return teams and just let him be a receiver. If he continues to improve at that position, he'll win the Bears far more games than he would as a returner. Daneal Manning is more than capable of returning kicks, and Nate Vasher or someone else can return punts. The Bears are ruining Hester, not because they're trying to make him a receiver, but because they're greedy and won't take him off the return teams.

Brad, I think you (and everybody else out there)'re looking at this the wrong way.

Prior to this season, Hester had a TD every 12.7 punts and a TD every 10 KOs in 2006 and every 21.5 KOs in 2007 once the bloops/squibs/short kicks became the norm.

This season, he's had 13 punts (of which he was close to breaking at least 1). Averages are exactly that -- the TDs don't come like clockwork on every 13th. If he goes 26 without one, then maybe you worry and can legitimately say he's "fallen off" from past years.

Same deal with the kickoffs... this year he has 20. Start approaching 43 without a TD, then you legitimately have a case to complain (note: as if any team wouldn't kill to have a 50% as productive of 2006-7 Hester).

The real difference in 2008? Number of opportunities. Hester got 42 punts in 2007, 47 in 2006. Halfway through 2008 he has 13. Everybody is just reading way too much into too small of a sample size.

Seriously, the media and fans just have to have more patience.

Statistically speaking Michael L is right on. But I do think Hester is hitting what holes there are a bit tentatively for whatever reason. Trying to make moves when you are running sideways or backwards is tough. Run full speed ahead at a potential tackler then make a move and you have a greater chance of success.

Let's be honest here. Devin was never exactly a high-watt bulb in the first place, and he is handling too much with being a receiver and return man for his capacity to excel. I agree that Devin the receiver is better for us than Devin the return man, but at the same time, we won a lot of games we had no business winning because of special teams. We need someone back there who can scare the opposing team into kicking short, or kicking out of bounds. Our starting field position when they kick away from Hester is better than our field position when they kick to him. If his hammy is healed, I say put Danieal Manning back there. He is a lot more aggressive than Hester is right now, and you save 23 for offense, where he can scare the defense out of the box and open up the field for the TEs and Forte.

But the last thing any player needs to do is listen to Deion, who even 10 years after his best years as a pro is still the most self-absorbed human being I have ever listened to in the world of sports. Devin needs to talk to Brian Mitchell, Mel Gray, and Eric Metcalf, not Deion. He creates division, not unity. The blame is not on the blockers, nor is it on Devin. The blame rests on the special teams unit as a whole. We are not blocking kicks (but strangely, we seem to be able to get to punts), we are not getting downfield to stop opposing teams' returns, and we are not getting good yardage on our own returns. Deion is all about the "it can't be my fault, so it must be yours" mentality, when the truth of the matter is that it takes 11 guys working together to succeed in the return game. Look back at his TD returns. A few of them were completely Devin, which speaks to how special he can be. But the rest of them were the result of key blocks in key moments, and lucky breaks.

We just aren't getting those blocks when we need them, and we are not getting past those blocks when we need to on the other side. Special Teams is struggling, but the arrival of our offense has made this less of a glaring problem than it would have been the last two years.

Bob, Hester has always had people in his face, only difference is in the last couple of seasons, Hester has not been asked to be on the field as much as a starting wide receiver. And I don't care what you say, the fact Hester is running up and down the field as a receiver, does have an effect on his return game, its called fatigue. How else do you explain Hester taking 11 back to the house in just two seasons, when it takes the average return man his entire career to do so?? Anyone who has watched Devin Hester take one back the distance knows one thing, its pure speed, its not like Hester dances around like Barry Sanders, juking left & right till he gets a block. Hester goes straight forward with pure speed like no other return man ever has. Also Bob, your trying to tell me the blocking was that good the last two seasons for Hester to almost set the NFL return record in two seasons, when it takes the average return man over ten seasons to come even close to Hesters numbers??? According to your theory Bob, the blocking was so good, the Bears should have been able to put anyone back there and they should have been able to almost set the record, afraid not guy. I think it was more Hester than the blocking, also, if the blocking is that bad, how in the heck did both Daniel Manning & Earl Bennett both take one back during the pre-season, and don't say, "the pre-season doesn't count," because the players playing special teams during the pre-season are playing for a roster spot, so they are playing full throttle. The Bears still have Patrick Mannelly and Adrian Peterson, two main stays as blockers for specials teams, plus the addition of rookie Kellen Davis didn't hurt the special teams blocking, your naming all the special teams coverage players that have been lost, there loss has had nothing to do with the return game of Devin Hester. Bottom line, take Hester off the field as a receiver, and I guarantee Hester will return one to the house again. Bob, remember what happened to the human joy stick Dante Hall when he starting getting more reps as a receiver, the same thing that is happening to Hester, a drop off in their return games. When a player is asked to run routes as a receiver, even if they do not have the ball in their hand, it will take a toll on their ability as a return man. GO BEARS!!

Devin Hester is a stud and if you've seen him run after making a catch on offense, he certainly hasn't lost any speed or agility. Blocking and overall confidence are the issues on returns right now. I have a feeling he is going to break one on Sunday and once that happens, the entie special teams will start rolling. Chicago 24, Tennessee 17

My take on this situation.

Teams have had 2 years to study what kind of methods work and what dont work. While teams are doing different coverages the Bears blocking has stayed the same.

Bears special teams blocking need to evolve with the coverage team.

Oh hey, I'm Joe. I think Dez Clark is a horrible TE and now I think Devin Hester is an idiot. Yet I completely miss the irony that while they are NFL players who make millions off their athletic talent, I have done nothing with my life but blog my worthless opinons which nobody cares about.

Let's be honest here, I'm the definition of FAIL.

-Joe the Moron

I definitely feel Devin is not getting the blocking this year and I'm pissed off about it. Taub should demand better players on the special teams. The past 2 years Devin would catch the ball and there would be a wall of blockers about ten yards ahead of him. Now it seems like the blockers release too soon and they end up way upfield and Hester gets tackled by the other team streaming in behind the wedge. Also I hate to say it but Devin seems to be slower this year and I was wondering if y'all believe that too.
Could it be that he does tire a little from running so much? We have yet to see that breathtaking explosiveness he had last year.
Let's get some bigger dudes in the wedge (Williams?) and knock some people down.

You know what? We all just need to get out of Devin's head. I agree with Michael L. But we also just need to get out of his head. Let him play, let him be Devin. When Devin was a rookie, he just played, he didn't have people asking him everyday why he didn't return a kick for a touchdown in the last game. If he is tentative, it's not 'cus he's stupid or tired. It's because everywhere he turns people are asking him what's wrong with him when there's nothing wrong. And I'll bet that when he returns kicks now, instead of instinctively looking for the lane, he's thinking that he had better take it to the house so the fans will get off of his back about what's wrong with him. If there is anything wrong, it's us. Maybe the blocking isn't as good, maybe teams are preparing better for him. In my opinion? It's because of us, paranoid Chicago sports fans. Just let the man play!

I think questioning a players intelligence is out of bounds and should not be part of the discussion. Devin has played well as a receiver to this point, and the threat of him breaking one alone has given the team excellent field position all year long. Teams that do kick to him are game planning the hell out of hteir coverage, and have done an adequate job of not giving him the whoe field to work with when they do kick his way. Last week he almost broke one if not for the horse collar he got the late penalty on. It looks to me that people are grasping at straws here, he is still a great retrn man, has been productive at receiver and the yaer is only half over, I say he gets 2 to the house before the season ends, but then what would fans have to complain about, that he did not get five.....Special teams are always a unit in flux, with all the injuries we've had this year ours is in flux more than others, although I am not the greatest fan of self-serving Deion, he actually has a point, the blocking is always the key, but just like a great back you have to be able to get through the holes when you see them and have the speed to take it all the way when you do...A win this week is not an upset, we are at home, match up well against the Titans, and should be able to win a close game...Go BEARS

Argh. Now Larry Mayer (on the official Bears site) is writing that Hester is "in a slump." I'm sorry but this is getting ridiculous.

Would you call a career .333 hitter "in a slump" if he went 0-for-3 in his first game? Or say Barry Bonds was "in a slump" if he went 7 at-bats without a HR (he hit a HR every 6.5 ABs in 2001)? No!

Yet this is exactly what the fans and media are doing (see my prior comment). You notice that no coaches or personnel are saying such ridiculous things? Funny that. In fact Jeff Fisher says he sees no "struggling" this year.

Seriously people, can we let common sense reign here for a few weeks? Wait until Devin gets more "at-bats" before judging prematurely.

Kevin, Sorry man have to agree to disagree. Blocking is a huge part of the return game. Devin has never seen so many in his face. IMHO I feel if the SP teams get a littel pride like they had last year and year before, you will see hester have huge returns. Kellen Davis is not the answer to the loss of Todd Johnson and Brendon A. Idonje was also on those teams, But as much as he is playing D who is to say his tiredness of pass rushing is not effecting his SP blocking. There is way to much into this for it to be all Devins fault cause he is tired. It lame and just not right.

Hey Moron,
Somehow you feel like hiding behind a fake name and bashing someone for having an opinion is a more noble pursuit than posting on a blog? At least I am willing to formulate an opinion, stand behind it, and continue to root for my team regardless! And as far as failure, come talk to me when you are bold enough to use your name to call me out...The only failures in this world are people who are afraid to be themselves and speak their mind.

Bob, buddy ol pal, guess what, go to the Chicago Bears official website, on it Jerry Angelo answers a bunch of questions, one of them being, why has Devin Hester had such a drop off as a return man, is it because of his increased playing time at wide receiver? Jerry Angelo the Bears GM replies, "I think because he's getting a lot more play time than he did last year AT RECEIVER, it may have affected him somewhat." This is Jerry Angelo, a professional GM giving his analysis. So you see Bob, on your above blog when you said, "Kevin you have no idea what your talking about," maybe before telling someone they don't know what there talking about, just because they don't agree with your opinion, maybe you might not want to bash someone for giving there own opinion, just a thought, as always GO BEARS!!

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on November 6, 2008 4:26 PM.

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