Chicago Sun-Times

Toub: Increased role as WR did not impact Hester's return ability

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We got an e-mail question Thursday evening asking about the production of Devin Hester, who made strides on the field as a wide receiver last season but saw a drop off in his production as a return man, ultimately relinquishing kickoff return duties to Danieal Manning.

"How much more did Hester play as a wide receiver in 2008 vs. 2007? I think the Bears took away from his explosive ability on special teams by taking his focus off of it. He was the most valuable player on the team. Now he's just another guy as a wide receiver and nothing distinguishes him as a returner. David N., Chicago"

That has been a popular question all offseason, and it's a subject we tackled with special teams coordinator Dave Toub at the OTA last week. First, let's take a look at the playing time numbers for Hester over the last two seasons in combination with his statistics:


Offense--631 snaps

51 receptions, 665 yards, 13.0 avg., 3 TD
6 rushes, 61 yards, 10.2 avg.

Special teams--121 snaps

31 kickoff returns, 679 yards, 21.9 avg., 51 long
32 punt returns, 14 fair catches, 198 yards, 6.2 avg., 25 long


Offense--226 snaps

20 receptions, 288 yards, 15.0 avg., 2 TD
7 rushes, minus-10 yards, minus-1.4 avg.

Special teams--182 snaps

43 kickoff returns, 934 yards, 21.7 avg., 2 TD
42 punt returns, 6 fair catches, 651 yards, 15.5 avg., 4 TD

So, Hester was on the field for a total of 752 plays (offense and special teams) in 2008 after being on the field for a combined total of 408 plays in 2007. One thing that is interesting is Hester's touches per play on offense dropped from one year to the next. Hester touched the ball every 8.37 snaps he was on the field in 2007. That number rose to one touch every 11.07 snaps last season.

What's missing in the equation for the returns and cannot be defined with numbers is the turnover that Hester dealt with on special teams. Toub's units took on a different look in 2008 and many of the new faces were rookies. Missing were Brendon Ayanbadejo, John Gilmore, Rod Wilson, Brandon McGowan and others. Hester basically had the same personnel around him in 2007 as he did during his rookie season of 2006. Take away the blockers and Hester wasn't the same return man. That doesn't explain for Manning's success as a kickoff returner however. He took over full-time duties in Week 11 at Green Bay and wound up leading the league with a 29.7 average. As Toub explains, things were ironed out by mid-November.

"It had nothing to do with Devin being on offense,'' Toub said. "When you go back and look at it, we had some young guys in there early and we didn't get them started. Toward the end of the year, we started cracking it. I've said it a million times now, we were a couple guys away from getting one on multiple occasions. Hey, they're hard to get. Touchdowns are hard to get on special teams. If you get two in a year, you're Pro Bowl considered.

"We just kind of got spoiled for two seasons. That's what happened. He's going to be fine this year.''

The Bears don't have plans to lighten Hester's workload on offense, either. How can they when you consider the depth chart? Hester was on the field for 631 of 1,012 snaps on offense (62.4 percent). He'll probably be more involved in the offense in 2009.

Opponents are scheming to stop Hester each week and he's been a marked man since the middle of his rookie season. If Toub is right and the players around Hester improve, he'll be the same returner the Bears are accustomed to seeing.

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hester will be fine, i'm betting on two punt TD returns this year. leave manning as the kickoff returner. i'm also thinking about 80 receptions for about 1,100 yards with cutler back there now, and that's being conservative. the biggest obstacle to more production out of him is going to be how much the ball will be spread around to olsen, clark, forte and hopefully some bennett and iglesias. and anything from knox will be a big bonus. man, i can't wait.

I agree genetic, Bears season cannot start soon enough! A few punt returns this year is definitely reachable and probable. I don't foresee 80 receptions, but I do see him reaching the 1,000 yard mark with about 7-8 TDs. If you look at how many deep balls he was under thrown last season (and I can think of about 5-6 50+ yds off the top of my head, at least 3-4 in that Saints game) he is pushing for 1000 yards last season. I would love to see some statistic on how many times he actually beat the coverage but was under thrown.


I cant take this anymore. You bench a once in a lifetime, unprecedented, instant HOFer in one phase so he can be an impotent plug in the dam for your offense because your depth chart at wideout is so lousy???!!?? GET A FRICKEN WIDEOUT THEN... You don't make Gretzky your goalie because all youve got is Manon Rheaume.... You don't make Jordan your center because all you've got is Greg Ostertag... You don't make Walter your kicker because all of you've got is...... well maybe you do that one... But COME ON CITY OF CHICAGO!!!!


SIGN A WIDEOUT... and let ANYTIME do what he does best!!


TAKE THE LOAD (of Turner's playbook) OFF HIS MIND...

I don't care what Toub says... (although he's right, the blocking was god awful last season....) Hester was playing 'ot to get hurt', didn't haven't Ayanbadejo etal, and was effed mentally by Ron Turner and Lovie.

Bring back the Magic!!!

Oh, come on losingmikeBrownWillHauntUs4eva. Manon wasnt all that bad....looking.

I don't understand some people. Returner is one of the easiest positions for the opponent to keep the ball out of their hands. Punting the ball out of bounds; on returns pooching, squibs and directional kicks all limit the returner. Do you really want to pay Hester to maybe touch the ball maybe twice all game? WOW talk about poor use of talent. So when Hester puts up 7Tds and around 1000yds on O then buck up and admit you were wrong.

Absolutely right Mike. The main reason he was put in as a WR was because of diminished opportunities to score on ST. Gotta do something to be dangerous..

I think the rib injury he had early last season affected him more than what was said (imagine the Bears not coming clean on a player's injury) and combined with the quality players lost off the special teams from 2007, tthose were bigger factors that playing WR.

It's interesting to contrast Toub's remarks to what JA had to say in his press conference back in December.


JA: No, we said that that was a possibility. I made this statement to Devin and I think I've said it here to some of you if not all of you at one point, that there's never been a No. 1 receiver and a No. 1 kick returner. If there's never been one, there's probably a reason for that. So I anticipated the potential of Devin's returns to fall off given the fact that we were going to escalate his play time at receiver. We wanted to escalate his play time and that's the course we chose to go down. His returns did suffer. Now is that to say that's the absolute reason why? I don't know that. Teams got better with their coverages, being there was more of a sense of urgency. I'm sure they did a lot more studying and how to cover with Devin. There are probably other things there too. He wasn't the returner he was in the last couple years. We're going to look at that real hard too and make sure we continue to define what his role is because the one thing that we know about Devin and he showed it at receiver is that he's a playmaker, and when you get a playmaker, you want to make sure you get him the ball the best way you can to make as many plays as he can on Sunday.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on May 29, 2009 8:48 AM.

Catching on: A look back at play time vs. production for '08 receivers was the previous entry in this blog.

Joyner: Cutler will make fans remember Grossman quite fondly is the next entry in this blog.

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