Where Have You Gone, Devin Hester?

Electrifying returner yet to make a mark on special teams in 2008

It's a testament to how great Devin Hester has been in his first two season as a Chicago Bear, that after going the first seven games of the 2008 season without a return touchdown, people are starting to wonder if he's lost his mojo.   With every week that goes by, you keep thinking that this will finally be the game where Devin busts free for one of his electrifying touchdowns, but then at the end of the day, we're all still waiting for it.

Thankfully, the Bears have been able to soldier on without Hester igniting the team.   They're 4-3 and tied with the hated Green Bay Packers atop the NFC North, and they're averaging a remarkable 28 points a game.  If the defense could ever muster a consistent pass rush, this Bears team would become the favorite in what appears to be a vulnerable NFC.

Whether that's going to happen, though, I'm not too sure.  Which is why a return of the Devin Hester of old would greatly help the Bears chances.   In his first two seasons, Hester has returned 11 kicks for touchdowns, and a missed field goal.  Oh, and there was that return on the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI, which is all I remember from that game because mercifully my mind has blocked out the rest.

That's 13 return touchdowns in Devin's first 35 games.   In his last seven, he's had none.  Now there are plenty of possible reasons for this.  Devin did spend a lot of time this past offseason preparing for an expanded role on offense as a wide receiver, and it's a role he's getting better at with each game.   Still, Hester's return skills have never been something he worked on as much as they're an instinct, so I don't know if his work on offense can really be what's at fault here.

There's also the fact that teams just don't kick to him that much.  On Sunday, even though Devin hadn't had any success on the season, the Vikings squibbed their first few kickoffs of the game.   As a result, the Bears offense had a short field to work with, and Kyle Orton quickly led the team down for a score on their first drive.

It also seems that Devin is more hesitant on his returns.   Whereas in the past he would catch the ball, find a lane and just go -- relying on his speed and agility to do all the real work -- now it looks as though he's dancing around too much before making a decision.   Still, I don't think it's a lack of confidence or anything to do with Devin.   I think the reason he's procrastinating so much back there is that he just doesn't have the blocking he's used to getting.

It's easy to think that Hester is a God after watching him the last two years, but while doing so we forget he's only one of eleven people working on the field during his returns.   As good as Hester is, he still needs blocking, and I just don't think he's getting it this season.   The loss of Brendan Ayanbedejo this offseason has had a drastic effect on the special teams units, and until somebody else steps up and claims Ayanbedejo's place, I don't think we're going to see much magic from number 23.

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