For the past handful of years, Devin Hester has carried a burden all his own. When Brandon Marshall became a Bear, the biggest part of that burden was lifted.
It was the curse of the No. 1 receiver, the fuzzy, loosely defined identifier that fans and media have tried to fit Hester with since he and the Bears agreed in 2008 to a contract extension that contained escalators that could have made the last two years of the deal worth 10 million per, based on hitting numbers befitting a No. 1 receiver.
That didnt happen. With Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, it probably wont. And Marshalls prediction that Hester will have an All-Pro season shortly won't come true.
And that is fine with Hester. More than fine, in fact.
I can just sit back and play now, Hester told CSNChicago.com. Everybody wanted me to be the No. 1 receiver. I might never be a No. 1 receiver. But Ill be Devin Hester. Thats it. Thats my mindset.
Hester wanted a shot at being an elite receiver and was willing to bet on himself with the escalators if he was as good as he, and the Bears hoped.
He worked through injuries in 2011 that contributed to his totaling just 26 receptions, one fewer than undrafted rookie free agent Dane Sanzenbacher and only slightly better than the 20 he had in 2007, the year before he became a full-time receiver.
Hes heard the criticisms: You get listed as that No. 1 receiver but youre not making 1,000-yard seasons, then red flags get thrown, Hester said. But Im capable of doing that.
The irony is that the single biggest potential drain on his potential opportunities Marshall is also the biggest believer in Hester outside of receivers coach Darryl Drake.
Marshall has not caught fewer than 81 passes in any of the last five seasons. Hester has never caught more than his 57 two years ago. Marshall has looked past the Hester numbers and it has meant a great deal to Hester.
When guys come in, like a Pro Bowl receiver Marshall, and see that you didnt have stats, some people would say, hes not really that good, Hester said, shaking his head.
But to come out and work with me every day and see what Im capable of, and be high on me -- that speaks for itself.