Hester shoots for strong finishing kick
The Bears' Devin Hester is expected to return to action Sunday after being sidelined with a concussion.
JOHN STARKS | Staff Photographer
If he plays Sunday, as expected, Devin Hester hopes to start a strong finishing kick to what has been a personally disappointing season.
Hester has been cleared to return to the playing field and is listed as "probable" against the Vikings in Minnesota.
Injury was piled on to his subpar season two weeks ago against the Vikings when he suffered a concussion that kept him sidelined last week.
With just 18 receptions for 203 yards, Hester is on pace for his fewest catches since he had 20 in his first NFL season as a wide receiver after converting from cornerback. At that pace it would be the third straight year his receptions have plummeted from a career-high 57 in 2009.
With the Bears at 8-4, Hester points out they control their own destiny and have a great shot at the playoffs, but he admits he's personally frustrated.
"But we've got four more games left to turn it around and end it on a good note, and that will be a good thing," he said. "It's not the end of the road right now. It can be a big turnaround."
Hester's 8.0-yard average on punt returns would be the second-lowest single-season mark of his career and more than 50 percent lower than his career average of 12.9 going into this season. His 25.5-yard kickoff-return average, however, is better than his previous career average of 23.6 but ranks just 15th in the NFL.
But the most glaring deficiency in Hester's 2012 season is his touchdown total. On 62 touches, one of the NFL's most explosive players has found the end zone just once, a 34-yard TD grab against the Cowboys in Week 4.
Hester said his concussion was "the first that I know of," and the most difficult aspect was the headaches, but he believes he'll be available to handle return duties in addition to helping fill the void at wide receiver with Earl Bennett out with a concussion.
"As far as I know, once I'm cleared, I'm ready to go," he said. "I don't think there's any limit to it."
As Brian Urlacher's replacement at middle linebacker, Nick Roach will be attacking the Vikings' all-world running back Adrian Peterson from a different angle than he did two weeks ago when he was at his customary strongside position.
The assignment is the same, though.
"In terms of stopping him," Roach said, "you still have to get everybody to him to get him down."
Peterson is a leading MVP candidate with an NFL-best 1,446 rushing yards and a spectacular 6.2-yard average per carry. He gouged the Bears for 108 yards on 18 carries two weeks ago and last week blew up for 210 yards on 21 carries against the Packers.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has stressed all the usual lessons this week.
"Gang tackling, gap security, knowing exactly what we're doing and playing hard and fast," he said. "That game he played last week, it was special. We know what we've got in store for us. Competing for a championship, we've got to get him on the ground."
After letting a victory slip away last week, the defense would appreciate another opportunity to protect a late lead, which it failed to do against the Seahawks.
"I know a lot of guys left that field pretty (ticked) off," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "You want another opportunity like that because games like that, you shouldn't allow to slip away, and we've done that more than once this year. We need to show up in the critical situations."
Cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) was added to the list of Bears out for Sunday, joining wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) and linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring).
Kelvin Hayden is expected to start for Jennings with D.J. Moore reclaiming the nickel back spot that Hayden had won in recent weeks. Like Devin Hester, rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (knee) is probable after missing the past two games, and they should both see increased snaps with Bennett out.
Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi (hamstring) is also probable, while guard Chris Spencer (knee), running back Michael Bush (ribs) and defensive tackle Stephen Paea (foot) are all questionable after limited practices Friday. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen went through a full practice and is probable.
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