Will Lions Kick to Hester?

Detroit's special teams facest its biggest challenge of the season: trying to corral Devin Hester. Will they kick to him and rely on the coverage units, or will they stay away?

So, will the Lions dare kick the ball to Devin Hester? Seems like a bad idea.

Hester is the most productive punt and kickoff returner in NFL history and the Lions' coverage units, beset by injuries and miscues, rank near the bottom of the NFC.

"If you just kick it out of bounds, that's kind of showing weakness," said Stefan Logan, who covers and returns kicks. "But look, he's dangerous. You've got to be smart. Sometimes kicking it out of bounds, that's not a bad move. It's a sign of respect."

Hester returned his 11th career punt for a touchdown last week, pushing him past Eric Metcalf on the all-time list. His 15 total returns for touchdowns are two better than Brian Mitchell. It's a hold-your-breath moment every time his hands are on the ball.

"It's everything," said Lions kicker Jason Hanson on the challenge Hester presents. "If you've been kicking good, you have to kick it great. If you've been covering OK, you have to cover a lot better. It's a special deal. He's amazing. You don't get out of your game plan, but you treat him as a weapon."

KR Devin HEster
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire

The Lions contained Hester fairly well last season. In the season opener in Chicago, he returned five punts for an average of 3.4 yards. He didn't return any kicks. In the second game at Ford Field, he averaged 18.7 yards on three kickoffs and 18.5 on two punts. He did bring one back 30 yards, though.

"He is one of the best of all-time and we haven't played our best as coverage units," coach Jim Schwartz said. "But it's not just the coverage units. It's Donahue and Hanson, their kicks, the placement, the distance and the hang time. All those things are very important to getting him stopped.

"The offense has a lot to do with it, also. If the offense is moving and we are in good field position, you don't need to drive (the punts). You can afford to get it out of bounds or hang it high and not worry about distance. And if the offense is rolling you don't have to punt it much."

Hanson leads the NFC and is second in the NFL with 15 touchbacks. So if the Lions chose to avoid any unnecessary conflict with Hester, they can. But it's not that easy, Hanson explained.

"I can kick it high and deep, but sometimes I will have a real good kick, really high, five yards deep and they will still bring it back," he said. "I can kick it deep, but it's not automatic. They say, 'Just put it through the uprights every time' - yeah, OK. It's not that easy.

"But if I am kicking well and the conditions are right, I should put it in the back of the end zone to where if they do bring it out, we should punish them."

The coverage teams have lost some key players. Isaiah Ekejiuba is out for the year (shoulder). Rashied Davis, the former Bear and a superb gunner, has missed the last two weeks with a foot injury. He didn't practice on Wednesday. Maurice Stovall, another gunner, was playing with a cast on his right hand. That cast was removed Sunday.

"We are just misfiring a little bit," said Hanson, who has had to make two tackles this season. "When coach says we're not playing our best football, we're a part of that. We've given up a long run in all four games. That shouldn't happen. We feel like we are way better than we're showing."

It may be a little bit personal for Logan. Hester is at the top of a mountain he's fought to climb his whole career.

"I always look forward to playing against the great returners," he said. "I want to show that the Lions have a good returner, too."

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