Bucs aiming to play keep away from Devin Hester

Kick to Devin Hester at your own peril.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers know the drill with the Chicago Bears return man, who has been selected as the NFC special teams player of the week two of the last three weeks.

The Bucs are planning to kick away from Hester, but that’s always easier said than done. When an offense is backed up deep in its own end, it’s treacherous aiming for the sideline. Mishit the ball and the punter could set up the Bears’ offense on the 30-yard line with a short field.

“ No,” Bucs coach Raheem Morris said when asked if his team would kick to the all-time record holder. “Devin Hester will have to go against our Pro Bowler, hopefully our grass skirt guy, Michael Koenen. Hopefully, we can directional kick, do some different things. If we have to kick to him, last week we played (the Saints' Darren) Sproles. He’s another dynamic punt returner and we were able to keep the ball away from him, limit his production, limit his touches. That’s what we need to do because Devin Hester is a great player.”

Koenen doubles as the kickoff specialist for the Bucs. He’s produced touchbacks on 14 of his 27 kickoffs and before the rule change that made it easier this season, he had 51 touchbacks in 2009 and 2010.

“Michael Koenen has been phenomenal with that, with touchbacks, he’s been awesome getting the ball away from people,” Morris said. “You don’t have to kick it out (of the end zone), but when you’re playing a guy like Devin Hester, you prefer you kick it out.”

Koenen has averaged 46.0 yards on his punts with a 42.5 net. The average kickoff return by opponents has been only 18.4 yards.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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