The following is a Sports Bank flashback piece from summer 2008. It’s written by former TSB contributor Sarah Spain. It’s very likely that Sarah Spain will soon leave ESPN 1000 for Fox Sports 1. In light of today’s events; and the fact that’s a VERY SLOW news day, I felt the need to bring this old post back to the top.
As you can see, it’s quite well written.
Last night on my way home from work I was listening to All Night With Jason Smith on ESPN 710. The topic was Devin Hester’s holdout and subsequent absence from the Chicago Bears training camp. Smith feels that Hester, primarily a punt and kick returner, is asking for too much because his role on the football field is equivalent to that of a late reliever in baseball. Fleshing out his analogy, Smith compared quarterbacks to starting pitchers—when a team loses, most of the blame falls upon the starting pitcher or the quarterback–and kickers to closers–when the game’s on the line, it’s in their hands (or feet, as the case may be). Smith claimed that Hester, like a late reliever, played an important role in–at the most–half of the games in which he played last year. While I agreed with a lot of Smith’s thoughts, his fatal flaw was in not watching enough Bears games.
Hester affected almost every single Chicago offensive possession last season. Teams that dared kick to #23 were immediately burned by another ridiculous highlight reel return from the Windy City Flyer. When he wasn’t taking it to the house, he was taking it three-quarters of the way there and giving the anemic Bears offense a decent shot at getting in the endzone. Most importantly, Hester’s influence was obvious when he didn’t even touch the ball. Every time the Bears started their drive near midfield, it was because of Devin Hester. Every pooch punt and squib kick that bounced out of bounds at the 45 yard line was the result of Hester’s inhuman ability to beat an entire special teams unit.Â You cannot underestimate the importance of field position in football, and thus, you cannot underestimate the importance of a Devin Hester.
Looking beyond the league-changing stats Hester puts up as a returner, Bears fans see a real future for him at wide receiver. With an entire off-season to learn the offense and get more comfortable with his routes, Hester may surprise a lot of doubters who want to see him as just a special teams player. Everyone knows that Hester is the greatest returner in the history of the game, but at this point, no one–not even Lovie Smith–knows whether Hester will be a #1, #2 or #3 wide receiver by the season opener. His enormous potential is one reason Bears brass shouldn’t be short-sighted in their contract talks. Hester’s deal shouldn’t be based on the contracts of other special teams players or wide receivers. He’s ten times more valuable than any returner in the league and until he’s in camp working with the offense, there’s no way to tell how he’ll fare as a consistent receiver. Sad as it is to say, the Bears as a team have the worst skill players in all of football. Most football fans would describe the team’s quarterback(s), receivers and running backs as “strike year” standouts. Give Hester what he wants. Late reliever, special teamer–whatever you wanna call him–he may just be the most important player the Bears have got.