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Hester's punt-return job is safe
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/24/2009 12:02 AM

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Devin Hester was replaced by Danieal Manning as the Bears' starting kickoff-returner last year when his average dropped under 22.0 yards.

Hester also slumped as a punt returner in '08, averaging just 6.2 yards, less than half his average in his first two seasons. He's off to a slow start this season, averaging 7.3 yards on his first 4 attempts, but he won't lose that job.

"He'll continue to be our punt returner," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's a great punt returner. I'm pleased with everything he's done."

Manning led the NFL with a 29.7-yard average after taking over for Hester last season, and he handled kickoffs in the season opener. But last week, when Manning returned to free safety, he was spelled on kickoffs by Johnny Knox, who averaged 20.5 yards on 2 tries and will probably be the deep man again this week. 

"We have a lot of options," Smith said, "but Johnny did a good job last week. We'll just let it play out through the week and then a little closer to game time we'll make those decisions."

Point to prove: After catching 92 passes for 904 yards last season and 202 passes for 2,224 yards and 21 touchdowns in the previous two seasons with the Bengals, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was the most attractive wide receiver in last off-season's class of free agents.

But the wide receiver-needy Bears didn't show much interest in him.

"Ah, man, the Bears ain't hollered at me," Houshmandzadeh said. "I didn't hear from Chicago. (Bears GM) Jerry Angelo probably didn't think I could play, so I'm going to show him Sunday."

Regardless of who's covering him Sunday, the 6-foot-1, 199-pound Houshmandzadeh, who turns 32 Saturday, likes his chances.

"Look, I'm going to be realistic with you guys," he said. "I feel like I'm going to get open every play, every time. But those guys (Bears defensive backs) get paid, too. I just have to be realistic with it. I'm going to win 95 percent of the time, and they can get the other 5."

Extra points: Defensive end Alex Brown (sprained ankle), linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (sprained knee) and tight end Desmond Clark (cracked rib) did not practice Wednesday. Tinoisamoa and Clark are not expected to play Sunday in Seattle, but Bears coach Lovie Smith said on Monday that Brown would "be good to go." - Defensive tackles Tommie Harris (knee) and Israel Idonije (knee) and guard Frank Omiyale (ankle) were limited in practice. - Guard Johan Asiata was re-signed to the practice squad Wednesday after being cut last week. He replaced cornerback Woodny Turenne, whose contract was terminated.