Nov 19, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; Chicago Bears receiver Devin Hester (23) carries the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Bears 32-7. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Hester: How The Free Agent Return Man Fits in With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

When Lovie Smith was in Chicago, he didn’t have the greatest offenses to work with.

One guy that did a lot of their scoring for them, however, was Devin Hester.

The kick return phenom sent opposing players into fits trying get him to the ground, but they often went for naught as Hester would scurry his way to the end zone. Equally as menacing on punt (and field goal) returns, the former Miami Hurricane hasn’t experienced the same level of success since the NFL moved the kickoff up by five yards in an attempt to lessen the frequency of one of the most exciting, yet dangerous plays in the game.

That change means that a guy like Hester isn’t valuable to every team in the league, but I believe he would be asset in Tampa Bay.

Before we go back to kick returns, let’s take a look at Hester from a receiving standpoint. Last season, Bears coach Marc Trestman opted to use the speedster only as a return specialist, removing him from the receiving corps he had been a part of since 2007.

From his debut at the position in 2007, to his last season at receiver in 2012, the numbers didn’t exactly stand out. He averaged 36 receptions, 467.8 yards, and 2.3 touchdowns per season.

Devin Hester never managed to develop the route running abilities that would have made him a nightmare for opposing defenses to prepare, but Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford could do wonders with him.

If you recall, Tedford formerly coached the Cal Bears, and speed demon extraordinaire DeSean Jackson. He knows how to get a guy with speed in open space, where he is most dangerous. Tedford’s offense predicates itself on short, quickly developing passing plays. With the receivers running shorter routes, Hester would just have to get off the line quickly after the snap, and not have to think too much about the route he’s running. As long as he makes the catch, he can do what he does best: make people miss.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently do not have a receiver that can be considered a threat to the middle of the field. The closest thing they have is TE Tim Wright, who had a breakout season in 2013, but has an undetermined role for the future as of yet. Wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams play their majority of snaps out wide, with their main strengths being catching the over-the-shoulder fade passes and jump balls. They’ll need a fast slot receiver if they want to put up the type of points they’ll need to keep up with the Saints and Falcons on offense.

As a return specialist, we all know the kind of damage Devin Hester is capable of. He’s taken multiple punt returns for touchdowns in four different seasons, with his season-high being four. He also has five career kick returns for touchdowns. It’s a job he’s been doing for eight years now, and he would provide a reliable return man and a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

While current kick returner Eric Page was largely reliable, he also wasn’t anything to write home about. Page’s abilities as a receiver are limited as well. A guy like Devin Hester, however, could help the Bucs offense (that struggled to move the ball very far last season) by providing them with excellent field position, and maybe even by spotting them a few points.

Head coach Lovie Smith would be wise to at least get Hester in Tampa to see what he has left in the tank. He’s interested in joining his former coach once again, and the team has a need for what he brings to the table.

Hester is 31 years old, and with his value as a returner being diminished by NFL rules, the Buccaneers could have him at a cheap price.

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