Bears seek dual threat in return game
LAKE FOREST – Make no mistake about it.
If the game is on the line and a kickoff is on the way, Devin Hester will be on the field.
“He’s still our No. 1 returner,” Bears special teams coach Dave Toub said Wednesday during full-squad minicamp at Halas Hall. “When we need a big one, Devin is going to be in there.”
But he might not be the only Pro Bowl kick returner standing on the goal line.
The Bears signed special-teams standout Eric Weems to a three-year contract in March, and his presence could cause problems for opponents come September and beyond. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2010 as a member of the Atlanta Falcons, and he has averaged 25.6 yards a kick return in five seasons compared with Hester’s career average of 23.6.
Between Hester and Weems, Toub said, opponents could be forced to pick their poison. Other times, Hester could catch his breath on the sidelines while Weems handled the job.
“We’ll kind of trick people in terms of who’s getting the ball,” Toub said. “We’ll move one guy up there late. We’ll also try to kick it away from Devin and get the ball to Weems at times. … He’s definitely a luxury for us. I mean, this guy can take it to the house.”
Clearly, so can Hester.
Although a new system under Mike Tice has led to hints of a “Hester package” on offense, special teams remains Hester’s possible ticket to a Hall of Fame induction some day. His 17 kick return touchdowns (12 punt return, five kickoff return) are more than any other player in NFL history, and at age 29 he likely has at least a few more seasons to boost that number.
On the first day of full-squad minicamp Tuesday, Hester and Weems shared repetitions on kick returns. On Wednesday, Hester practiced on the first-team punt return unit with Weems fielding punts on the second team and rookie Greg McCoy on the third team.
Weems said he loved working side-by-side with Hester so far during the offseason.
“We push each other,” Weems said. “Both of us want to be great. Being that both of us want to be great, we’re going to push each other to work hard every day.”
Neither player boasts tremendous size, but Weems (5-9, 205 pounds) is stouter than Hester (5-11, 190 pounds). Weems’ return style goes along with his square build, Toub said.
“They’re both very good, obviously,” Toub said. “Hester is more of an outside guy. He wants to make people miss and get outside.
“Weems is a north-and-south, physical-type returner. He’s going to break a lot of tackles.”
Weems agreed with his coach’s description.
“He’s a speedy guy,” Weems said of Hester. “I’m more of a straight-hit-it guy.”
If all goes well, both kick returners could be touchdown guys for the Bears this season.