"I know what I'm best at," Devin Hester said Thursday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Radio-1000. "The return game is my bread and butter, so if I had to cut back on my receiving and go back to returning, that's something I would love to do."
No kidding. Who wouldn’t like to return a few more kicks if it meant becoming a part-time player, especially when you’ve got a four-year contract that will pay at least $30 million and could be worth almost $40 million.
The problem, Devin, is that the Bears are paying you like a full-time receiver, and a very good full-time receiver, not a kick returner who plays a little wideout. Hester’s already been paid $15 million in guaranteed money from his 2008 contract extension in addition to a $5 million roster bonus last season.
In 2006 and ’07 Hester scored 11 regular-season touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns and added another kickoff-return score in Super Bowl XLI. But he hasn't scored a touchdown on a punt or kickoff return since Dec. 30, 2007.
There’s no guarantee that it would even help the Bears to have Hester return kickoffs, especially based on his lousy punt returning the past two seasons. His 7.8-yard punt-return average in 2009 was 19th in the NFL. His 6.2-yard average in 2008 was 23rd best.
In 2008, Danieal Manning took over Hester’s kickoff-return duties midway through the season and led the NFL with a 29.7-yard average. Hester averaged just 21.9 yards before losing the job.
This past season, rookie Johnny Knox averaged 29.0 yards on kickoff returns, just one-tenth of a yard off the NFL lead, and he was a late addition to the Pro Bowl. Manning averaged a very respectable 26.6 yards.
So, if Hester really wants to help the Bears, he should focus on continuing to improve as a receiver, where there’s still lots of room for improvement after a decent 54-catch, 682-yard season. There’s even more room for improvement in his punt returns, where he’s become way too much of an east-west dancer seeking the sidelines than a north-south home run threat.