Big day here at Start Kyle Orton. Long-time loyal reader Apex (and I mean loyal. None of the rest of you sonsabitches has taken me to a game, now, have you?) has joined the writing staff here at SKO and makes a stellar debut with a rarity here on this website, a pro-Devin Hester wide receiver article. Without further ado, introducing Apex:
Throw It To Devin
The last time Jay Cutler had Brandon Marshall to throw to, the former- Bronco tandem posted a season that would have made history statistically for their current team, the Chicago Bears. Both Cutler’s 4,526 passing yards and Marshall’s 104 receptions in 2008 would have broken the single-season marks for the Bears. With the two poised to obliterate several of the relatively pathetic aerial franchise records it would seem that Chicago’s perpetual woes at these two positions are finally over.
With the addition of second-round draft pick Alshon Jeffery and the return of Cutler-favored Earl Bennett at the receiver position, it would seem to some observers of influence that the Devin Hester Experiment on offense is in denouement .
I believe that’s not true. I believe it’s in sharp ascent, it’s apex still a distant and impressive reality in the offing. Indeed, the NFL’s all-time leader in return touchdowns will face more friendly competition for his quarterback’s attention. But with the other contributors demanding double teams and stretching defenses, Hester should be able to finally draw single coverage and be allowed to settle into zones as an afterthought.
And once he gets the ball in his hands, everybody and his mother knows he’s a threat to go the distance .
We’ve heard flowery assessments of his training camp performance and importance to the team’s offense from coaches literally every season since the Bears converted from a defensive back before the 2007 season. Since then, he’s produced nothing resembling number one receiver statistics in any campaign. His career highs in receptions and yards (57 for 757 in 2009) came in Cutler’s first year in town. The quarterback has yet to develop an on-field rhythm with Hester like his obvious connection Marshall or even former Vanderbilt teammate Bennett who grabbed 24 passes in 11 games last year.
While I expect Bennett to prosper from Marshall’s presence as well, I look for Hester to seize number two receiver status. Rookie Jeffery will have to prove himself against professional defenders to gain the confidence of coaches and Cutler alike. Bennett is a capable slot receiver but lacks the explosiveness of Hester who will pose a deep threat, and I believe Cutler desperately wants to destroy opponents over the top after so much frustration in his first three seasons here.
And I don’t buy the colloquialism that increased activity on the offensive side of the football will somehow diminish Hester’s value or production as a return specialist. These days, with the rule changes on kickoffs reducing the kick return to a historically rare occurrence, it makes no difference who you plan to let watch balls sail into the seats. A return man’s value will be found on punt returns, where Hester has always excelled – so much so that opposing directional punters avoid him like AIDS as often as they’re able.
Former 49er and Jerry Rice sidekick John Taylor’s best statistical season came in 1989 when he caught 60 passes for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also returned 44 punts for 556 yards and a pair of scores. Hester’s best season as a punt returner came in 2007 when he took 42 for 651 yards and four touchdowns. Taylor was playing opposite the incomparable Rice and devastating defenses and special teams alike.
This year, after learning the position on the fly for five seasons as a pro I expect Hester to post similar numbers to Taylor’s in 1989. Write it down and stick it on your refrigerator: 60 catches, 1,000 yards, 10 TDs. Or don’t. It’s going to happen either way.