After Hester's inglorious stint as a cornerback during his rookie season, offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who had been campaigning hard for this position change, finally got his wish. With the additions of rookie playmakers Greg Olsen and Garrett Wolfe, Turner now has more weapons to work with than he's ever had during his two stints with the Bears.
And according to wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, Hester is a natural at his new position.
"He's talented in a lot of areas," Drake says, "but he's gifted as far as catching the football."
But Hester's value in the return game will limit his offensive snaps. No one wants to see the most explosive special teams player in the game go down with an injury. So how then will Turner maximize No. 23's abilities in such a reduced role? I recently spoke with Hester about the team's approach to the situation.
"Right now," he says, "I'm just playing the normal receiver spot and that's how we're treating it."
Just trying to get the ball in open space?
"Most definitely," he agrees.
Here are five plays that Turner can use this season to get the most out of his newest weapon:
The "0" route
This pattern calls for the receiver to take one step forward, then stop and turn to the quarterback. The QB takes the snap and immediately fires the ball to his receiver. This play works best against man coverage because the receiver will only have to make one tackler miss before he is alone in the open field – and Hester is great at making people miss.
This play would work well if he lined up in either the running back or wide receiver spot. The goal of any screen is get the ball to a skill position player with the defensive line already behind him and blockers out in front. If executed properly, not only will Hester have the ball with no one around him, but he'll also have one or two linemen to lead his way down the field.
The reverse is a trick play where the offense begins moving in one direction before handing the ball off to a player moving in the opposite direction. The goal is to get the defense headed one way before giving the ball to a speedy wide receiver running away from them. In our scenario that receiver would be Hester, and if run properly he could use the reverse to break a game wide open. His speed and elusiveness would flat-out eat up a defense that has already been put on its heels by the initial fake. The only problem with a Hester reverse is that every defensive player will also be looking for it, which means Turner has to use it sparingly in order to find success.
It is inevitable that Hester will be a target for opposing defenses every time he steps on the field. They know as well as everyone else how explosive he is and will be paying close attention to his every move. After he runs a few hitches, outs, and zero patterns, defensive backs will become more aggressive in how they defend him, something Drake is counting on. "I hope they press him," he says. "I really do. [They will] almost have to grab him and hold him to keep him on the line. It's the gift he has." One way to counter this over-aggressiveness is to run a double move pattern known as the "stop-and-go." The stop-and-go asks the receiver to run forward about 5-10 yards before cutting and turning toward the quarterback. The QB then pump-fakes in that direction before the receiver turns and sprints downfield. If the defensive back bites on the initial fake, then Hester will be wide open streaking down the sideline.
As mentioned before, the moment he steps on the field, all 11 defenders will be waiting for him to get the ball. Which is why it makes more sense for the Bears to use him as bait than to rely on him as an offensive savior. Consider this: Hester lines up slot-right and swings out wide for a screen pass. At the same time, quarterback Rex Grossman fakes a throw in his direction. In that split second, every member of the opposing defense will freeze in anticipation of Hester touching the ball. But by the time they realize it's a fake, receiver Bernard Berrian will be five yards behind the safeties running free for a touchdown. This is Hester's true value to the offense. It puts him out of harms way, keeping him healthy and energized for his duties as the best return man in the NFL.
The 2007 Chicago Bears will unveil a new-look offense that should complement their dominating defense nicely. Hester will play a huge part in the festivities, whether by catching the ball, running it, or just being a decoy.
The potential of this offense has everyone at training camp keyed up, including veteran wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad.
"We're all highly motivated," he says. "I think we all know the potential of this football club. Our offense can be a very exciting offense, very explosive. We've got some new weapons out there. We've got a lot of guys who can light the scoreboard up. We're all excited."
|Jeremy Stoltz is an Associate Editor for Chicago Sports Weekly. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report and BearReport.com.|
Jeremy Stoltz's Chalk Talk Archive
08/02/2007 - Birth of the 4-3
07/26/2007 - Umbrella Defense
07/19/2007 - Pro Set
07/12/2007 - T-Formation
07/05/2007 - A-Formation
06/28/2007 - Notre Dame Box
06/21/2007 - Single-Wing
06/14/2007 - Defensive Tackle
06/07/2007 - Shotgun
05/31/2007 - Run-and-Shoot
05/24/2007 - 46 Defense
05/17/2007 - Screen Pass
05/10/2007 - Draw Play
05/03/2007 - West Coast Offense (Part II)
04/26/2007 - West Coast Offense (Part I)
04/19/2007 - Zone Blitz
04/12/2007 - I-Formation
04/05/2007 - Zone Blocking
03/29/2007 - Cover 2
03/22/2007 - Counter Trey