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Hester's play speaks volumes

 
Reed Schreck
updated: 8/5/2007 4:22 AM

Devin Hester is quiet, soft-spoken.

"I'm just like the normal person," he said.

Maybe away from a football field. On it, especially for opposing defensive players and coordinators, he's a headache waiting to happen.

Six returns for touchdowns as a Chicago Bears rookie in 2006 attest to that. Now teams will have to worry about Hester the wide receiver as well.

Hester going from cornerback to wideout has been perhaps the most scrutinized aspect of the team's training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. If successful, the benefits to the offense are obvious. Put the ball in his hands twice as much, the theory is he could do twice as much damage.

Think how much more famous he could become. He's already done a Campbell's Chunky Soup commercial and been awarded an ESPY for being the breakthrough athlete of the year.

Any extra attention, though, isn't likely to change Hester the man.

"If you didn't know who I was," he said, "you would say he's probably with the scout team or something. I'm more laid back than just humble with it. I believe my mom raised me up the right way.

"I've always said I'm no better than the next guy. There's always somebody there who's twice as better as you."

Now that would be a player worth watching. The Bears are content to have the Devin Hester that wears their No. 23.

The one who says, "I'm not one to go out and trash talk."

The one who says, "You don't always come in feeling you're the best player on the team, or act like it."

The one who says, "I get along with all the players. I joke around with all the players. Any player will tell you that -- I don't act conceited or nothing like that."

He could.

He does things with a football in his hand people dream about. A Madden video game even gives him the only perfect score.

The early reviews of his camp are between 3 and 3½ stars on a scale of 1 to 4. He's shown quickness, elusiveness and excellent hands. He needs to polish his ability to break free from the line of scrimmage, run routes more precisely and catch balls in crowds. Those will come with repetition.

"I feel like each day I'm getting better and better," he said. "Each day, it's slowly, slowly getting better.

"I'm at the stage where I know all the basic stuff, where I can go run 10 to 12 plays and be confident with it."

He needs to stay healthy. He missed two days with a hamstring strain that temporarily halted his strong start to camp before returning on Friday.

Ron Turner said he started getting excited about Hester when the Bears drafted him last year.

"I didn't know I'd have to wait a year to get him," the offensive coordinator said with a smile.

While Hester takes his reps as a kick returner, he's expending most of his energy learning the nuances of wide receiver.

"He's definitely someone special, so I definitely get excited," Turner said. "The progress he's made has been tremendous. Mentally, he's handling everything really well. Physically, he's got good instincts out there. He's definitely going to be able to help us."

Turner said what most impresses him about Hester are "how he's handled things mentally, how he's picked everything up. And two, his route running. We knew he had great hands. He's even said he's more comfortable than he thought he was going to be."

The conversion plan begins with basics.

"We start from the very beginning teaching him the system," Turner said. "Everything we do is based on terms, so we keep teaching the concepts slowly. We don't get involved in all the detailed things, the intricacies of it, the hot reads, the blitz pickups."

Turner said Hester does things "naturally." Work ethic will take care of some of the rest.

"He's got a lot of pride," Turner said. "He's always watching film. He watches himself, but also Bernard (Berrian), Moose (Muhsin Muhammad) and other guys do things and learn from them."

Hester has one word to describe himself.

"Playmaker," he said. "I just want to do whatever it takes to win."

Head coach Lovie Smith must read the newspapers and watch Hester highlights on TV.

"It's been well-documented what he was able to do last year," he said. "Getting his hands on the ball a limited number of times, our goal in the offseason was to find ways to get his hands on the ball more. We think we can do that.

"That's why we talk about a training camp battle. It's a battle for Devin to become more of a receiver and see exactly how far he can go. I think he can be special."

Quarterback Rex Grossman is as happy as anyone Hester's switching sides.

"He's started off really good, and he's only going to get better," Grossman said. "The more time he gets as a true receiver, the better he's going to be.

"He knows it on paper. I'll get the timing of the way he runs his routes. He'll get a better idea of how coach (Ron) Turner and coach (Larry) Drake want him to run his routes. It takes a little time, but he's unbelievable with the ball in his hands, and that's why we're going to try and get it to him in a lot of different ways."

Reed Schreck is the NFL writer for the Rockford Register Star. He can be reached at 815-987-1381 or rschreck@rrstar.com.

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