Chicago Bears return specialist and wide receiver Devin Hester loves Monday Night Football. The seven year pro football player excels in the spotlight and has had some of his best games as a national audience tunes in to see his speed take over on kick returns and punt returns. The Detroit Lions have a problem this year in their special teams coverage. If the 2-3 Detroit Lions hope to stay competitive with the Bears in tonight’s match-up, they must kick the ball away from Hester and force the Bear’s offense to move the ball, rather than Hester.
With five games under their belt, the Lions have already given up four special teams touchdowns this season. The Lions gave up two return touchdowns to the Minnesota Vikings and were the victims of return touchdowns in back to back weeks prior in the season. The Lions are giving up an average of 30.3 yards per kickoff return. On punts, the Lions give up an average of 19.6 yards to the opposing team. Several of the Lions losses come down to special teams. In the game against the Vikings, the Lions held Minnesota’s offense to three points. Special team mistakes cost the team the game and are already having a huge impact on the season. When facing one of the most explosive return men of all time, it seems logical to kick the ball away from him and not count on special teams to get the job done.
Hester missed several practices this week, but is expected to play for the Bears Monday night. The Bears multi-purpose player could also see some targets as a receiver with rookie Alshon Jeffery out of the game. Hester has seen his receiving duties decrease over the past three years. In 2009, Hester caught 57 passes for 757 yards with three touchdowns on the season. The following year, Hester’s receptions dropped to 40 with a decrease in yards to 475. Last season, Hester only managed 26 catches for 369 yards. On the current 2012 season, Hester has seven catches for 114 yards, with a receiving touchdown under his belt as well.
Despite his decreased role as a receiver, Hester is still being utilized as a key return man for the Bears special teams. Hester has 11 punt return this season for 86 yards. He is averaging only 7.8 yards per return, with a long of 23 yards. This is well below his career average of 12.6 yards per punt return. Hester has returned 10 kickoffs this season for 269 yards, with a long of 38 yards. Hester’s 2012 kickoff return average of 26.9 is actually ahead of his career average of 23.8 yards. Hester has not returned a kick for a touchdown in eleven months, but has had some of his best games on Monday nights. Hester has eight career touchdowns during Monday Night Football games. The Bears star also needs only one more return touchdown to tie Deion Sanders for the NFL record.
Hester was a multi-position star at the University of Miami. The Bears took Hester in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Many analysts and Bears fan questioned spending such a high pick on a player that would primarily be used for special teams. While at Miami, Hester gained several nicknames including “Hurricane Hester” and “Anytime”. The “Anytime” nickname became a tribute to Hester’s mentor and idol Deion Sanders. Sanders had the nickname “Prime Time” while playing for several teams throughout his NFL career.
Despite the criticism of the pick by Bears fans, Hester immediately showed why he had been picked. In his opening NFL game, Hester took a punt return to the end zone. Super Bowl XLX featured the opening kickoff being returned for a touchdown for the first time in the Super Bowl era. The return man to accomplish this was Hester against the Indianapolis Colts. The rest of the game saw the Colts kick away from the Bears return man and limit his role in the contest.
The last time Hester returned a kickoff or punt to the end zone was against the Lions last season. Hester took a punt return 82 yards for the score in last year’s season. Back in 2007, former Lions head coach Rod Marinelli said it best, “kick the ball into Lake Michigan, and make sure it sinks to the bottom”. Marinelli was referring to a tactic used by teams to limit Hester’s role. By kicking the ball out of bounds on punts, teams limit their field position. By kicking the ball out of bounds on kickoffs, teams actually get a penalty. In the case of Hester, a penalty will be worth what the alternative could be.