Bears

Moon: Emotional Hester gives teammates their due

Moon: Emotional Hester gives teammates their due

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
8:01 PM Updated 12:57 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

MINNEAPOLIS Devin Hester is, with apologies to Deion Sanders, his mentor, the greatest kick returner in NFL history. You could look it up.

But it was difficult for him to acknowledge the honor.

Hester stepped to the visiting teams podium underneath TCF Bank Stadium after the game in which had broken Brian Mitchells record with a record 14th return touchdown. But his first thought was not about himself, and tears welled up in his eyes and he had to stop twice to compose himself.

I want to give all credit to all those guys blocking for me, Hester said. Without them I wouldnt be up here today. I hate sitting up here taking all the glory. All the glory goes to them.

Actually, all the luxury watches will go to them as well. Hester said before the season that he was going to buy each member of his unit a watch to commemorate the occasion and what they had accomplished together.

Were the best punt-return team ever to do this, Hester said, with a mix of both pride and amazement as it sank in. And theres going to be a lot more than that, I can tell you that.

Hester, who began the third quarter with a 79-yard return to the Minnesota 6, burst through a cluster of Minnesota Vikings with a third-quarter punt and carried it 64 yards into the Minnesota end zone and into the NFL record books as the 14th return touchdown of his career.

Coach Lovie Smith has seen the building of the return groups since Hester arrived in the 2006 draft and you want to get on that unit when you have a returner like Devin, Smith said.

For special teams coordinator Dave Toub, It says a lot, it really says a lot, he said, shaking his head. It hasnt really even sunk in.

Favreing it up

Brett Favre presented one surprise for the Bears Monday when he tested his injured shoulder by throwing two hours before game time and judged himself fit to start after being declared out two days ago.

That was a surprise, said Lovie Smith, whod overseen the scheming by his defense for rookie Joe Webb. They said he was out and I assumed he was out.

As far as out apparently not meaning out, You learn something every day, Smith said.

But the Minnesota Vikings took arguably a bigger hit in the other direction when running back Adrian Peterson, who missed practice two days and was limited on a third last week, was ruled out with nagging ankle and knee problems.

And All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson, out the past two games with a broken thumb, is now gone for the season after being placed on injured reserve. Chris DeGeare started in place of Hutchinson while 2010 second-round pick Toby Gerhart took Petersons place.

The change to Favre represented a change on one level. The Bears under Lovie Smith, however, have been 8-3 against Favre teams and this is not the Brett Favre who was the scourge of the Bears of Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron.

But Peterson takes a huge part of the Minnesota offense out of play and could prove particularly costly on a night when snowy field conditions projected to place increased emphasis on the run game.

For their part the Bears were without strong-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa for the third time in the last four games as his comeback from minor knee surgery has not been sufficient for him to resume play. Nick Roach was again inserted into the starting lineup.

Also out for the Bears: offensive linemen Herman Johnson and Edwin Williams; tight end Desmond Clark; defensive tackle Marcus Harrison; defensive back Joshua Moore; and running back Kahlil Bell.

The Vikings were also without wide receiver Greg Lewis; defensive backs Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford; defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy; tackle Thomas Welch; and quarterback R. J. Archer.

Commishing
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said before Mondays game that talks for a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players association are not where we need to be and we are not as close as Id like the negotiations to be.

Goodell seemed to be sending something of a reminder to the NFLPA that there will need to be more give in order to get something done and avoid a football shutdown in 2011.

If everyone gives a little, everyone will get a lot, Goodell said. But not everyone will get everything they want but hopefully they will get what they need.

Goodell stopped by the collapsed Metrodome and called the destruction startling. He also sounded a positive theme for the Minnesota market as the NFL works with Vikings ownership and the citystate to get a stadium situation resolved for the team. Overtures have been made which could move the Vikings to Los Angeles but it seems like everyones working to find the right solution, Goodell said.

Brett Favre surfaced in two areas of the conversation: his switch from out to starting, and the ongoing investigation into his behavior involving a former member of the New York Jets organization while Favre played for the Jets.

Goodell said that the change in Favres status was against no rule and was in fact a medical decision and based on a medical report. A decision in the Jen Sterger case is not expected during this season, declared by Favre to be his last, making it strangely irrelevant.

Im not going to put a timetable on a decision, Goodell said. Hopefully by the end of the season.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.