The Chicago Bears converted Devin Hester from cornerback to wide receiver in 2007. He only caught 20 passes that season but took a big step in 2008, hauling in 51 balls for 665 yards. He improved again in 2010, catching 57 passes for 757 yards.
Following that season, coach Lovie Smith fired offensive coordinator Ron Turner and replaced him with Mike Martz. Immediately, Hester's production began to fall. He dropped to 40 catches in 2011 and just 26 last year.
Hester is not a lifelong receiver and was still learning the position when Martz took over. His system is one of the most complicated in the game, requiring receivers to read and react on the fly, something Hester never fully grasped. In essence, he just couldn't wrap his head around Martz's egregiously large playbook.
WR Devin Hester
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With Martz now gone and Mike Tice running the offense, the Bears have publicly expressed their desire to put Hester in better positions to succeed. GM Phil Emery recently outlined his plan to use his most-dynamic pass catcher.
"Devin's role has not changed," Emery said following this year's draft. "We see him as a guy that's going to help our receiving corps, in a big way. Coach Tice has done a lot of planning. I want to make sure that we have a special plan for Devin; we have the Devin package."
That one term, "Devin package", has caused a stir amongst Chicago fans and analysts alike. It's really an innocuous label, one that generalizes the plays in which Hester will participate, yet everyone and their mother has run with it as some sort of Black Ops system Tice is developing in a dark basement somewhere.
In reality, it's just the plays in the new offense that will involve Hester. Just like Brandon Marshall, Earl Bennett and Matt Forte will have a series of plays designed specifically for them, so will Hester have a similar package.
It's really that simple; nothing to lose our minds about.
"[Hester] will have a package of plays that we feel can bring out his dynamic ability to the forefront and if not only as carrying or catching the ball, but sometimes that's a decoy," said Emery. "Devin's speed vertically is something that has to be accounted for. So if that pulls people from coverage, to handle that vertical ball, you've got other people; we've got some awfully big targets to hit."
When asked about it after practice yesterday, Hester downplayed the widespread overreaction to the term.
"[It's just] getting the ball to a guy who can do damage with the ball in his hands," Hester said. "With this offense, I really do truly think that Mike Tice and [quarterbacks coach] Jeremy [Bates] and those guys want to put [the Hester package] in this year. I'm looking forward to it."
Another reason for a specified group of plays is to reduce the number of plays Hester needs to learn, something in which he struggled under Martz. And in general, the playbook will be much more simplified under Tice.
"This offense is a lot easier; it's a lot simpler from previous years," Hester said. "Alshon [Jeffery] came in right away and picked up the offense."
With Brandon Marshall and Jeffery now in the fold, augmenting both Hester and slot receiver Earl Bennett, Bears coaches and players feel this year's group can develop into a high-powered aerial attack.
WR Brandon Marshall
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"[Jeffery] is going to be a big weapon we can go to," said Hester. "Of course we've got Brandon who's going to go up and get those jump balls. This offense is going to be very explosive this year with this kind of rotation."
Marshall, who has caught 80 or more balls and more than 1,000 yards in each of the last five seasons, is expected to take pressure of Hester and the other wideouts, which should open the entire offense.
"Brandon's going to attract a lot of attention from the defense," said Hester. "There's going to be a lot of situations where he's going to get double-teamed from defenses, and that's going to leave me backside one-on-one, and when I come up and make some big plays, the coverage is going to roll over, and that's when it's going to open up to him.
"It's going to be a rotation thing. I don't think every week it's going to be the same guy making big plays. This receiver group is going to alternate each and every week. One week Brandon might catch 20 balls, and then the next week he might just catch one or two balls and Earl or somebody else might come up with that 20-catch game. So this offense, there's going to be a bunch of balls going around, and everybody's going to have their chance to catch some balls."
Another reason for the Hester package is to limit his reps on the field so as to keep him fresh for his duties as a returner, where's he's at his most dangerous. Still, Hester believes he can accomplish big things despite limited snaps on offense.
"That's my mentality every year: To be a top-notch receiver in this league. Regardless if it comes from the deep ball or catching hitches and making big plays, that's just my mentality. I'm just out here as a playmaker, and that's what I plan to do."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.