Time away from kickoffs made Devin Hester a better returner

The Chicago Bears turned to their secret weapon this past Sunday in their victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

OK. He Devin Hester wasn’t a secret to anyone, but no one expected him to be returning kickoffs, and that is what he did for just the third time in the last 29 games. Hester provided a spark and he was named NFC special teams player of the week for a 68-yard kickoff return and a 42-yard punt return against the Vikings, who entered with the league’s top punt coverage unit.

There was plenty of hoopla surrounding Hester’s return to kickoff returns, but the fact is Johnny Knoix represented the Bears in the Pro Bowl last season and Danieal Manning could have been selected for the same honor in 2008 when he replaced Hester on kickoff returns. When the Bears took Hester off kickoff duties, he was struggling. The time away from that phase has made him a better kickoff and punt returner. He doesn’t wiggle and dance and look for a hole now. He hits the crease and goes.

With 13 combined kickoff and punt return touchdowns in his career, he’s tied with Brian Mitchell for the NFL record. The next score will put Hester atop the record books by himself.

Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub explained there were a handful of factors that went in to putting Hester in an old role.

“We weren’t saving (him) up,” Toub said. “It’s just a matter of how many touches he was getting on offense. Johnny the game before didn’t really come off the field at all and we realized when Danieal was getting all the reps on defense we had long drives and we had kickoff and we had to go kickoff return and Danieal was out. So, I just was, ‘Johnny.’ The next guy was Johnny. So, we kept calling Johnny up and at then at the end of the next week we realized, hey Johnny was playing every rep on offense and Devin was over there on the sideline.

“Here’s the best guy maybe in the history of the game and he is sitting on the sideline so we said we need to get him in the game the next week. That’s how it went and we just wanted to keep it on the low so they didn’t know and we brought it out for the Minnesota game.

“He’s just as confident as ever. Devin has always been Devin. He had the two down years where he didn’t score a touchdown, but still he was very, very effective in everything that he did on punt returns and kick returns every time we used him.”

Look for the Bears to rotate Hester and Manning on kickoffs for the remainder of the season with Knox perhaps getting an occasional shot.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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