The Bears' Devin Hester has caught 39 passes for over 500 yards this season, including this one Sunday against the Jaguars at Soldier Field.
Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer
Maybe he'll never be Terrell Owens.
Or Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald or Reggie Wayne.
But Devin Hester's performance at wide receiver the last two weeks is starting to offer Bears fans a glimmer of hope that the one-time all-pro return man can in fact become a serviceable wide receiver.
Sure, there were a couple more drops and 2 muffed punts, but Hester led the Bears with 5 catches for 80 yards during a 23-10 victory at Soldier Field on a frigid Sunday afternoon.
Hester has 8 catches for 147 yards over the last two games - while all the other Bears WRs combined for 7 catches and 83 yards - and he has 39 grabs for 522 yards and 3 TDs overall.
Compared to last season, when he was often asking fellow WR Muhsin Muhammad where to stand as the team approached the line of scrimmage, this year is a "big turnaround," according to Hester.
"You've just got too much on your mind, you're second-guessing yourself all the time on what's going on," Hester said of last year. "Now, you've just got a free mind and (you're) just playing ball."
There's a common belief in the NFL that it often takes receivers until their third season to adjust to the speed of the league and to truly understand the nuances that come with beating complex defenses. Some receivers such as Fitzgerald, Boldin, Denver's Brandon Marshall and Detroit's Calvin Johnson are so physically talented or come into such advantageous offensive systems that they can't help but put up big numbers right away.
But others - such as Atlanta's Roddy White, Green Bay's Greg Jennings or Carolina's Steve Smith - needed time to adjust, and, in White's case, dedicate themselves to all aspects of becoming an NFL receiver.
"The more repetitions you get with whatever you're doing in life, you always get more relaxed and comfortable with it," Hester said.
Despite Hester's propensity to drop passes, quarterback Kyle Orton keeps going back to him. Orton threw to Hester 10 times Sunday, including a 30-yard pass early in the fourth quarter on an audible. Hester beat cornerback Brian Williams down the right sideline to set up a field goal and a 23-10 lead.
"Yeah, we had man coverage and I just checked down on the play to give Devin a chance down the field," Orton said. "He ran a great route and made a nice play."
Williams was pressing Hester at the line, something opposing corners have been doing since the Bears' loss in Green Bay four games ago.
"You've just got to be physical and anticipate the jam," Hester said. "It's like karate. If somebody throws a punch, you've got to be able to knock their hand down. Knocking the hand down and keeping your shoulders square - that's what we try to do."
The passing game was back in sync Sunday as Orton finished 20 of 34 for 219 yards.
"We needed it very badly, said Hester, "just to put us back in a position where we were back on rhythm. Hopefully it can continue the rest of the season."
Year 3 magic?
A look at how five of this year's top 12 NFL receivers improved in the third year of their pro careers:
Player, team Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
Roddy White, Atl. 29-446 30-506 843-1,202
Greg Jennings, GB 45-632 53-920 66-1,131*
Steve Smith, Car. 10-154 54-872 88-1,110
Lee Evans, Buff. 48-843 48-743 82-1,292
Vincent Jackson, SD 27-453 41-623 44-851*
Devin Hester, Bears 20-299 39-522* ??
* Stats through Week 14