Devin Hester was drafted into the league as a defensive back but the Bearsknew his real worth was as a returner. He's proven that countless times during his seven seasons, and he currently holds the NFL record for most all-time return touchdowns (both kicks and punts).
Hester also lines up at wide receiver, where he caught a personal-best 57 passes in 2009. In the three seasons since, however, his receptions have declined, from 40 to 26 to 23, and his 10.5 yards-per-catch average in 2012 was the lowest of his career. And now, under second-year general manager Phil Emery and new coach Marc Trestman, Hester's place on the Bears' final roster may not be assured.
Forget wide receiver, according to CSNChicago.com's John Mullin, Hester is working to hold onto a spot as a returner.
"Trestman said as much earlier this offseason and observing the rotations during minicamp, with Earl Bennett among others fielding kicks," Mullin wrote Sunday. "Trestman again used the word 'competing' to describe Hester's situation as the Bears' primary returner.
"With the Bears tight against the salary cap, Hester's 2013 base of $1.85 million is potentially a factor, as is his age (31 in November), if he does not establish a level of dominance approaching what he had before working into the offense as a receiver."
Currently, Hester is listed as the Bears' No. 4 wide receiver behind Brandon Marshall, Bennett and second-year player Alshon Jeffery. If the two sides end up parting ways in the coming weeks or months, Hester won't be out of work long. Competent return specialists -- even those in their early 30s -- are hard to come by. Teams will line up to sign him although at something less than what the Bears were set to pay him this season.
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