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Bears’ hope for Hester: Catch more passes, return fewer kickoffs

Chicago Bears v Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 7: Devin Hester #23 of the Chicago Bears returns a kick against Jon Durenbos #46 of the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 7, 2011 in Phildelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

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Devin Hester may be the best return man in NFL history, but that doesn’t mean that’s his primary role in Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune connects the dots with the addition of Eric Weems and Devin Thomas, two players with experience as kickoff returners, and notes that last year Johnny Knox averaged more yards per kickoff return than Hester, and says it all adds up to the Bears making Hester an integral part of the offense at wide receiver and cutting down on his kickoff returns.

“We have that versatility now,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “We added another good player into the [kickoff-return] mix in Devin Thomas.”

Chicago has pushed Hester as more of a receiver and less of a returner before, in 2009, when he had a career-high 57 catches and career lows in both kickoff returns (seven) and punt returns (24). Hester has always been a better punt returner than kickoff returner and will almost certainly remain the primary punt returner this year after leading the league with a 16.2-yard average last year.

But on kickoff returns it appears that the Bears are ready to phase him out. Knox is recovering from a serious back injury and may not play in 2012, but the presence of Weems and Thomas will allow Hester to sit kickoffs out.