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updated: 9/22/2012 6:40 PM

Bears' Hester has become invisible man

Wide reciever's production has all but vanished on offense

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  • Devin Hester has just 7 catches in his last 11 games.

      Devin Hester has just 7 catches in his last 11 games.
    Associated Press

  • Jay Cutler throws during the Bears 2012 season opener against the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field in Chicago. The Bears won 41-21.

      Jay Cutler throws during the Bears 2012 season opener against the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field in Chicago. The Bears won 41-21.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Devin Hester smiles with Brandon Marshal, left, and Jay Cutler, right, against the Washington Redskins in the second preseason game at Soldier Field in Chicago.

      Devin Hester smiles with Brandon Marshal, left, and Jay Cutler, right, against the Washington Redskins in the second preseason game at Soldier Field in Chicago.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 

Considering the St. Louis Rams have just 2 sacks and rank 30th in the NFL in sack percentage, Jay Cutler should have plenty of time to throw the ball today at Soldier Field.

What will be interesting to see is where the Bears' quarterback goes with the ball. In the season opener, it seemed like every pass went to Brandon Marshall. But the next game, the heavily guarded Marshall was ignored until it was too late, and no one stepped up to pick up the slack -- including the other starting wide receiver, Devin Hester.

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As unproductive as Marshall was in the first half against the Packers, Hester has been almost as ineffective for more than a year. In his last 19 games, Hester has just one game with more than 62 receiving yards and just three games with more than 3 catches.

He was targeted just once against the Green Bay Packers, and he dropped that pass. In the opener, Hester caught 2 passes for 27 yards.

"It's just a matter of we don't know what's going to happen during the course of a game," Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said. "We go in with a plan, but sometimes those plans are determined by what happens to us defensively. We have a plan for him every week, and then you have to adjust depending on what's happening in the game."

It seems what's happening is that Hester isn't getting open often, and he has lost snaps to Earl Bennett and rookie Alshon Jeffery.

Hester the all-time-great return specialist is still around. He led the NFL with a 16.2-yard punt-return average last season, and he had a 23-yard punt return in the season opener.

But Hester the wide receiver seems to have disappeared.

In his last 11 games, Hester has a total of 7 catches for 88 yards and no touchdowns.

Hester had 1 touchdown catch all of last season, when he had a total of 26 receptions, the fewest he's had since his first season as a wide receiver in 2007.

The 29-yard catch he had in the season opener was his only reception of 20 yards or longer in that 11-game stretch, which has to be considered much more than a slump. It appears to be a trend in the wrong direction for the Bears.

With Marshall and rookie Jeffery in the mix this year, it seems unlikely that Hester's role in the offense will increase. Marshall has been targeted 20 times this season, running back Matt Forte 11, Bennett 10, Jeffery 7 and Hester just 3. Even tight end Kellen Davis has been targeted seven times, though he has just 1 catch.

Forte won't play today, and if the St. Louis Rams focus on taking Marshall out of the equation as the Packers did, someone else has to step up. After two games, not one of the other wide receivers has done that. No one has more than Bennett's 5 catches or Jeffery's 87 yards.

"We need to do a better job than we did (against the Packers), but I'm certainly not going to give you our game plan," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. "It starts with me. I need to do a better job, and the players need to do a better job."

Tice will match wits with former Bears assistant coach Dave McGinnis, who nearly became head coach of the Bears a decade ago. The Rams' assistant head coach has assumed most of the defensive coordinator responsibilities with bounty mastermind Gregg Williams suspended indefinitely.

The players must contend with a Rams secondary led by former Pro Bowl cornerback and all-world instigator Cortland Finnegan, the guy Marshall jokingly said might cause him to get ejected today. Talented rookie Janoris Jenkins is the other corner.

"They've got some feisty guys that get after you," Drake said. "Some cover guys who tackle well, and the safeties (Quintin Mikell and Darian Stewart) are good."

Finnegan, the 5-foot-10, 188-pound, former seventh-round draft pick, is the definition of feisty. So much so that Drake has warned his players not to get into it with the antagonistic cover man.

"That's his game, that's been his game, and he does a great job at it," Drake said. "They've got to understand that and be mature. He plays that way, and you have to adjust. You can't get caught up in that.

"But it is a physical game. He gets physical, and we have to get physical -- within the rules and until the whistle."

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