Devin Hester had 11 combined kickoff and punt return touchdowns over his first two NFL seasons (2006 and 2007), and the Chicago Bears have been trying to find ways to get him on the field more seemingly ever since. Moving him to wide receiver after his rookie season was obviously a move in that direction, but he has not developed as a pass catcher and has just 49 total receptions over the past two seasons.
The Bears have a new head coach with an offensive acumen in Marc Trestman, and he declared in March that Hester will be used strictly as a return man in 2013. A more recent report from the Chicago Tribune suggests he could also be used as a gunner on punt coverage, with special teams coach Joe DeCamillis mentioning his speed as a factor in forcing fair catches from opposing return men.
Hester hinted at retiring after last season, perhaps prompted by the firing of Lovie Smith as head coach, but there has been little talk of that recently. Bears general manager Phil Emery could consider trading him, but Hester’s perceived value around the league is at best unclear at this point.
The Bears are not loaded with talent at wide receiver, with Brandon Marshall the clear top dog and question marks around him, so Trestman’s fast declaration that he sees no use for Hester as an offensive weapon is a huge red flag. Even Hester’s impact as a return man has been mimized in recent seasons, both by teams avoiding kicking the ball to him and changes to the league’s kickoff rules.
Though the team may never clearly say so, I think Hester’s status on Chicago’s 53-man roster is very much in doubt for 2013. Standing out as strictly a special teamer will not be easy during training camp and preseason games, and the Bears may simply find it’s not worth hanging onto him. If he is released at some point over the course of the summer, Hester’s NFL future would be very up in the air.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.