Devin Hester nearly was a Tennessee Titan.
In an exclusive interview with Bears.com senior writer Larry Mayer, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo revealed that the Bears almost didn't get the chance to select record-setting kick returner Devin Hester in the second round of the 2006 draft.
"The Titans, who were picking [12 spots] ahead of us, had him on the phone and were making flight arrangements,'' Angelo told Mayer, "and then they changed their mind literally at the last minute."
After the Titans took running back LenDale White of USC with the 45th pick, the Bears still had to sweat out 11 picks before getting the chance to take Hester at No. 57. The Packers had two chances to get the eventual greatest kick returner in football history. Instead, they got stuck with offensive tackle Daryn Colledge (No. 47) and wide receiver Greg Jennings (No. 52). Only after the Cincinnati Bengals took offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth of LSU was Angelo able to get his man.
''Even though he was a bit of an enigma, he still was a tremendous talent,'' Angelo said. ''We felt the worst we would get was a top returner. We really had no idea he would become the best returner ever to play the game as he has.''
Had Hester not been available, the next cornerback taken was Tim Jennings of George, selected 62nd by the Indianapolis Colts. Maurice Jones-Drew (No. 60 by the Jacksonville Jaguars) and tight end Tony Scheffler of Western Michigan (No. 61 by the Denver Broncos) also were available.
But the Bears had their eye on Hester all along.
''Mark Sadowski really did a great job of evaluating Devin,'' Angelo told Mayer. ''Mark comforted all of us -- Lovie [Smith], Dave Toub and certainly myself -- that there was no bust factor with Devin. Devin was going to be a special player.
''We couldn't say for sure where or when. But he felt strongly about it. That's what I go on: what our area scouts tell me, and Mark was very adamant that that even though there was some gray area.''
The Bears also received good reviews on Hester from the Miami Hurricanes strength coach Anrdreu Swasey, Angelo said.
''Lovie and I were at an owners meeting in Florida and we decided to go down to Miami to work out Devin and Kelly Jennings,'' Angelo told Mayer. ''I remember going to the weight room and talking to the strength coach, who was revered down there and still is. He said the one thing about Devin is that you will always know where he is because he's always around the football facility. He said Devin is a great worker and wants to know what he needs to do to be a great player, and that stuck with me.
''He told me Devin was the best athlete on a great team with a lot of great athletes, and there was no bust factor with Devin because he was a great kid and a great player.''
Kelly Jennings, another cornerback/returner was taken 31st overall by the Seattle Seahawks and has had marginal success in the NFL. The Bears traded their first-round pick (No. 26 overall) to the Buffalo Bills for the Bills' second- and third-round picks. They took safety Danieal Manning of Abilene Christian in the second round (No. 42) and defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek of Oklahoma in the third round (No. 73). The Bears also selected linebacker Jamar Williams of Arizona State (fourth-round), defensive end Mark Anderson of Alabama (fifth), fullback J.D. Runnels of Oklahoma (sixth) and guard Tyler Reed of Penn State (sixth) in that draft.