What can we realistically expect from Devin Hester this year?
A few weeks ago, I said the only way the Bears will be good this year is if three things happen. The defense has to stay healthy for the entirety of the season, the offensive line has to improve significantly, and Devin Hester needs to take a big step forward in his development as a receiver, while still being Devin Hester as a return man. But what would a big step forward really be for a guy that caught only 20 passes for 299 yards last year?
When the Bears first announced their intentions to turn Hester into the ace of their receiving core, I wondered if it was a terrible idea. But the more I think about it, and more awesome I do with him in Madden, I am beginning to think I was overly cautious before.
Everyone’s chief concerns with turning loose Hester are the same: he faces a higher probability of injury, and he could lose focus on what he does better than anyone else ever, return kicks.
But it seems like some Bears fans are thinking it's a forgone conclusion that if Hester were to become a full fledged receiver, he'd get injured. I'm not sure that's the case. At 5-11, 185, he really isn’t undersized for a receiver. Torry Holt has done ok with a similar build, and Hester is actually bigger than Wes Welker, though certainly not as much of a gamer or grinder. And it’s not like the Bears are planning on frequently running him over the middle anyway, so he probably won’t take too many big hits. He doesn’t have an injury history either. From what I could gather, it looks like the only time Hester has ever been hurt was for three games during his freshman year at the U, and that injury likely came while partying with the Seventh Floor Crew, possibly from an accidental run in with G-Reg‘s third leg.
The Bears have yet to name their starting wide receivers for the season opener against Indy on Sunday, but I believe they’ve said that Hester should get about 30 snaps a game at receiver. If he’s on the field that much, Hester will probably be good for at least one 30+ yard catch a game, right? You know Orton is at least going to be looking for him. (Don't tell anyone this either, that's why it's in parenthesis!, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Orton may not be so terrible. If he's the 24th best QB in the NFL this year, everyone would be cool with that, right? It might happen...)
Then consider the rest of the Bears’ receiving core. There is no reason tight end Greg Olsen shouldn’t be the leading pass catcher on this team, but is anyone certain that’s going to happen? The Bears never ran him deep in the preseason, and it seems like they just don’t know how to use him. Who else are the Bears supposed to throw to? The Rashied Davis hype reached an unthinkable level after the third preseason game, but I have a hard time believing he’ll be the Bears go-to-guy. Marty Booker did nothing in the preseason, Brandon Lloyd and Mark Bradley just suck- seriously, how does Brandon Rideau not make the 53 man roster?- and while I think Earl Bennett could be really good, rookie receivers always have a hard time adjusted to the NFL.
Then there’s Hester. Like I said, if he’s on the field, he’ll likely be the first or second read on every pass play. The Bears have no reason not to look for him. He’s there only big play threat, and really there only threat at all offensively.
Is 1,000 yards out of the question? Probably, but I think 55 catches, 800 yards, and six touchdowns is certainly possible. You can add in at least three return touchdowns as well. Who knows? The only thing Hester has ever really failed at was turning into a good cornerback as a rookie, and I’d assume that is a pretty tough transition to make when you can’t decipher words longer than seven letters.
If nothing else, Hester is once again going to be the most exciting player in the NFL to watch, and we should be thankful he plays for our favorite team. Unfortunately, that may be as good as it gets for the Bears this year.
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The Cheat latest on John Danks is a must read. In all seriousness, I'm still not worried. Though I do realize I'm probably the only one.