Hester to Kickoff Returns. Now.

| November 8th, 2010

The following is a column I have written about 92 times.

The Bears converted Devin Hester to wide receiver because they wanted him to touch the ball more than the half dozen times a game he would on special teams.  (He has 25 touches on offense this season, a tad more than 3 a game).  They wanted to use his speed to stretch defenses vertically, keep defensive linemen honest with the occasional end around and get him the ball in the open field – where he’s most dangerous.  They were willing to abandon the game-changing skill and crowd-inspiring thrill his returns provided on an almost-weekly basis.  And the Bears did get their speedy wide receiver.  They drafted Johnny Knox with the 140th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft.

Knox and Hester are essentially the same player with the same skill set and playing them both is becoming an exercise in redundancy.  Knox is a more accomplished route runner.  Knox is a better threat down the field.  Knox has more reliable hands.  Knox is, quite obviously, a better wide receiver than Hester.  And you know why?  Because he’s been playing wide receiver for a much longer time.
And if the argument has been that Devin Hester no longer returns kickoffs as a means of concentrating his attention on playing receiver, I’m advocating instituting that policy for Knox.  The rotation of Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox on kickoff returns has been reliable and damn good but it lacks the electricity and coach-defying presence of Devin Hester.  Teams used to boot the ball out of bounds to avoid Hester.  They would dribble these nonsense kicks to the thirty.  Hester not only dominated on Sunday.  He dominated Tuesday through Saturday in opposing meeting rooms.
I’ve been fighting this fight for too long now and I’ll never stop.  Devin Hester is the greatest kick returner in the history of the NFL.  Every time someone else in a Bears uniform returns a kickoff it should be considered a poor in-game decision by Lovie Smith.  Every time an opposing coach is able to kick the ball off to our deep man without worry, it should be considered a poor game-planning maneuver by Lovie Smith.  For me, the decision to move Devin Hester off kick returns is the defining decision of the Lovie Smith tenure.  And if Lovie is serious about this new Era of Accountability, he should start by recognizing his own mistake and move Hester back to the goal line against the Minnesota Vikings.  The three touches he might have are not reward enough to risk cloaking his all-world ability.  
Make the right decision, Lovie.  It might just be the decision that earns you a new a contract.