Tice: Hester's package will grow

Alshon Jeffery has officially been ruled out for Monday night's contest against the Detroit Lions. OC Mike Tice said today that means more opportunities for Devin Hester.

Just when the Chicago Bears felt they had a legitimate No. 2 wide receiver to complement Brandon Marshall, rookie wideout Alshon Jeffery went down with a hand injury.

After scoring his second touchdown of the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jeffery came off the field holding his hand. It was later revealed as a cracked bone in his hand, one that will keep him off the field for four to six weeks. He's already been ruled out for Monday night's contest against the Detroit Lions.

"Alshon was coming on. That's unfortunate," said coordinator Mike Tice. "That's a part of the NFL. We lose a good, young player."

It's now up to the club's other wideouts to pick up the slack. That includes Devin Hester, whose role in the offense will increase for as long as Jeffery is on the shelf.

"We haven't really used him in some of the areas that we wanted to use him, but again we're only a coupe of games into this thing and we've got a long way to go," Tice said. "We're going to try to continue to grow his package. His package is going grow by the sheer fact that we lost Alshon this week."

Hester has caught five passes the last two weeks, including a 34-yard touchdown against the Cowboys and a diving 39-yarder against the Jaguars. Even before Jeffery went down, Hester's role in the offense was increasing. Now, with him likely to receive increased reps on offense over the next few weeks, he'll have to fill a major role in the passing game.

Yet there's no way he can replace Jeffery, as they are completely different receivers.

"It's a little different," said Tice. "Alshon is a big-body guy, and he can body up on smaller corners. But we have to move forward."

Hester has been in this position before. After converting him from a defensive back to a wide receiver his second year in the league, the Bears tried to force Hester into a starting role. Yet the results have been underwhelming. Despite having five full seasons to perfect his craft, Hester's single-season highs came in 2009 with 57 catches for 757 yards.

So to assume he's going to light it up as a pass catcher over the next few games is being far too optimistic. We all know Hester's limitations.

For that reason, Earl Bennett's return this week from a hand injury could not come at a better time. While Bennett has also been a relative disappointment, he's a pure pass catcher with the best hands in the league. He has a rapport with quarterback Jay Cutler that goes back to their days as teammates at Vanderbilt.

"Getting Earl back is going to be a good boost for us," said Tice.

If Jeffery is lost for the minimum four weeks, he'll be back in Week 9 against the Tennessee Titans. If he's out six weeks, he'll be gone until Week 11 against the San Francisco 49ers. Hester and Bennett will be tasked with helping Chicago's aerial attack stay afloat during that timeframe. If one, or both, step up during that stretch, the Bears' offense shouldn't miss a beat.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of 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.

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