Initially, the common perception was that Devin Hester had his job as wide receiver taken away in the off-season so that he could concentrate on recapturing the form that had made him better than anyone in NFL history at returning punts and kickoffs.
But that's not the way Marc Trestman remembers his first conversation with Hester in the days immediately after he was named the 14th head coach in franchise history.
"The conversation to my recollection was: 'It sounds to me like you just want to be a returner, and that's OK with me,'" said Trestman, who told Hester, "I would like you to be the returner and focus solely on that. If you can help our team after you feel like you're in a position to do everything you can to be the returner ... "
"I don't ever remember me telling him that that was the way it's going to be," Trestman said. "I remember our conversation being more like, 'I know that's what you want to do, and I'm all in.'
"(Special teams coordinator) Joe (DeCamillis) started meeting with him, and we started developing a dialogue when we saw each other. It just seemed to happen that way."
The early results say the new arrangement is working exquisitely.
Hester set a franchise record Sunday with 249 kickoff-return yards on 5 tries (49.8-yard average), and Wednesday he was named NFC Special Teams Player of the week for the 13th time in a record-setting eight-year career.
Trestman has become even more of a Hester fan now that he's coaching him.
"I'm just excited, being a Devin Hester fan, seeing him do what he's done best for the last decade," Trestman said. "It was good to see some of that happen on Sunday."
The Vikings kept kicking off to Hester in the Bears' 31-30 victory, and the man with the most kick-return touchdowns (17) in league history kept making those decisions look bad.
Hester fielded his first kick 8 yards deep in the end zone but didn't hesitate to bring it out, going 76 yards. That set up a Bears TD that evened the score after the Vikings' Cordarelle Patterson went 105 yards with the opening kickoff.
"We have a bad play that first one, and he comes back and gives it right back at them," DeCamillis said. "It put us right back into the game."
The next time Hester touched the ball, this time 3 yards deep, he brought it out 80 yards.
Thanks to Hester, the Bears' average drive starts at the 33.8-yard line after kickoffs, the best in the NFL and a whopping 7.5 yards better than the next-best team (the Texans at 26.3). The league average is 21.3.
DeCamillis has been a special teams coach in the NFL for 25 years, and defending Hester has caused him an abundance of angst over the years.
"I don't want to ever say somebody's the best," DeCamillis said, "but he's right up there, that's for sure."
What Hester does can't be taught, and it's often hard to describe, but DeCamillis offers one factor that makes him special.
"I would say (it's) his explosion out of the cut," the coach said. "Like on that first kickoff, when you watch him stick his foot in the ground (and cut); not a lot of guys can do that."
Hester says channeling his efforts to return duties has helped his return game.
"Just throughout the week, mentally preparing," he said. "I (get to) spend more time with the special teams unit and more time with the coaches on game-planning our opponent."
Hester gave credit for his latest award to coaches for game-planning and teammates for blocking. He also appreciated the Vikings kicking to him, which some teams avoid by kicking short or out of bounds. Only once in his career, the fourth game of his rookie season in 2007, has Hester gotten to return more than 5 kickoffs.
"It was just opportunities," he said. "They gave us good returnable balls. That was a key thing. We build on it, and the momentum gets going. When we get the momentum swinging our way, we just feel like we can't be stopped."
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