While I've spent the better part of the last 24 hours trying to erase any memory of the Bears embarrassing 37-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers from my mind, there was one thing the Bears did on Sunday that I'm hopeful they may consider keeping in place for the rest of the season. Now this may seem blasphemous to a lot of Bears fans out there, and a few weeks ago I never thought the notion would creep into my thoughts, but maybe it's time to relieve Devin Hester of his kick return duties.
Like everybody else who has followed the Bears the last few seasons, I am well aware of the spectacular plays Devin is capable of on returns, but for some reason, he's missing the magic this year. Maybe it's the fact he's spent so much time trying to learn how to contribute on offense that his return game is suffering, maybe it's the absence of Brendon Ayanbedejo, or maybe Hester's just lost it. I don't know. What I do know is that Hester's 21.8 yards per return on kickoffs is good for 31st in the NFL, and his punt return average of 6.3 yards is 21st in the league.
Neither come close to expectations for a man that has shown the ability to score from anywhere at anytime. Which is why when the Bears replaced Devin on returns with Danieal Manning in the second half on Sunday, there was a big part of me that hoped the move was permanent. Manning has now returned 11 kicks this season with an average of 26.5 yards per return, nearly five full yards more than Hester. Danieal also returned a lot of kicks during the preseason, and on those returns he was about one broken tackle away from taking it to the house on a couple occasions.
So why not give him a shot?
I know that the Bears coaching staff is deep in denial about the fact that their football team isn't very good, but I'd like to think they're open to making changes. The truth is that the Bears are just a mediocre team playing in a mediocre division, and their 5-5 record is a reflection of that. As presently constructed, the team isn't going to be anything more than that, so why not shake things up?
Manning has outperformed Hester on the field and should be given every opportunity to take the job. Yes, Hester was amazing the last two seasons, but things change quickly in the NFL. Opponents catch up to you, and now they have absolutely no fear of kicking to Hester. Really, what's the worst thing that could happen? Manning doesn't do any better and then they throw Hester back there again?
Hopefully Lovie Smith and Dave Toub will realize this and have Manning back there on the opening kickoff when the Bears take on the lowly Rams next Sunday.