Devin Hester doesn't believe he's a better kick-returner since the decision was made to relieve him of his wide receiver duties, but he does notice more bounce in his step, and he claims he's not upset about his reduced role.
“When you eliminate 50 or 60 snaps on offense, my legs are a lot fresher,” said Hester, who had just 2 kickoff returns (for 68 yards) and 1 fair catch of a punt in the first two preseason games. “I could feel it coming out of camp. I didn't have any nagging injuries, that was one of my most important things coming out of camp was to be injury free, and I feel great.”
Hester already holds the NFL career records for combined kick-return (kickoff and punt) touchdowns with 17, and punt-return touchdowns with 12. His 18 career return touchdowns (1 came on a missed field goal) are 1 short of Deion Sanders' NFL record.
Hester said he also feels fresher mentally without having to learn a new offense.
“I have more time to concentrate on special teams,” he said. “I'm not worrying about the offense now. Coming out of this camp I feel as good as I did my first two years.”
Hester had 11 return touchdowns in his first two years, 7 on punts and 4 on kickoffs. He was shut out in both categories last season, but in 2011 scored 3 TDs, 2 on punts and 1 on a kickoff.
Hester was frequently criticized for running sideways on returns last season, but it wasn't always his decision.
“I wanted to get more north and south, but we had to go with the return calls,” he said. “Everybody is fast in this league, so once you start right returns and left returns, teams pick up on that. Hopefully we'll get more north and south this year, and gouge them.”
On Hester's first punt return against the Raiders on Friday, he picked up a short punt on one hop and went 19 yards straight up the gut, but his return was negated by an illegal block.
Put in perspective:
Martellus Bennett didn't complain about not catching a pass in the first two preseason games.
“I just think it's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes,” said the 6-foot-6 tight end who caught a career-high 55 passes for the Giants last season. “We haven't played a full game yet. There might be some games where Brandon catches 8 balls in the first half, and then the second half they might double him, and I might catch 8 or Alshon (Jeffery) might catch 8.
“It's the preseason. If I don't catch any balls in the preseason and I catch 150 in the regular season, fine. Those preseason catches don't get you extra checks; in the regular season, those catches do. We're not even showing our full hand right now, so it's like a poker game. No one knows what our offense is.”
Bennett had a 16-yard catch in the first quarter Friday night and almost hooked up on a huge play when Jay Cutler beat a blitz and lofted a ball downfield that a diving Bennett caught but then lost when he hit the ground.
Not to worry:
A nagging hamstring injury kept defensive end Julius Peppers out of the first two preseason games.
But he played Friday night, and even before that, coach Marc Trestman was confident the seven-time Pro Bowler would be ready for the start of the regular season.
“There's no concern based on practice and his level of conditioning that he'll be ready to play,” Trestman said. “But that's a long way away; we'll see.”
Peppers started and played into the second quarter. With help from Nate Collins, he nailed Rashad Jennings for a 2-yard loss in the first quarter.
Sitting it out:
Wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion), defensive tackle Henry Melton (concussion), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (right knee), defensive tackle Corvey Irvin (left ankle), running back Harvey Unga (ribs), quarterback Matt Blanchard (left hand), long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (ribs), running back Armando Allen (hamstring) and defensive end Cheta Ozougwu (hamstring) did not play.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.