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Baffoe: Just Let Devin Be Devin

By Tim Baffoe-

(CBS) Devin Hester is by all accounts a nice fellow.

The biggest controversies he has ever been involved in during his pro football career were threatening retirement after the Chicago Bears fired Lovie Smith and being the obnoxious guy at the gas station who makes it so that you can't use the adjacent unoccupied pump.

And being a genuinely good dude is not only refreshing in a day and age when we're constantly looking to swarm to the blood of scandal in the waters of sport, but it's redeeming for a guy who—and this isn't exactly a secret—isn't the sharpest knife in the Bears drawer. And that's okay—nobody asked him to be cerebral coming out of the University of Miami.

Sports are filled with guys who are dumb and bad people. Humble and kind, regardless of how bright or cosmopolitan an athlete is, is endearing.

And Hester for years had fixated himself in the hearts of Bears fans with a combination of country awshucksedness and ohmygoshlookatDevinrunedness. 11 touchdowns on kick and punt returns in just his first two seasons. While a heck of a good guy off the field, he was absolutely cut-throat after fielding a kickoff or punt.

Being Devin meant being a weapon the league had never before seen. And it was good.

But then he stopped returning kicks for touchdowns. A two-year drought that just so happened to coincide with the Bears making him a larger part of the offense and paying him as such. His receiving yards went up to nothing really special while kind of looking lost in the Ron Turner offense at times while his return opportunities diminished.

He was being asked to think too much. Unfortunately that is not the optimum way to let Devin be Devin.

Enter Mike Martz, otherwise one of the more despised figures of recent Bears vintage, whose maybe only positive contribution to the offense was doing his best to remove Hester from it and forcing a justification of the money being paid Hester by having him return more kicks. The Windy City Flyer flew again on special teams during Martz's two seasons as offensive coordinator—six return TDs while his catches and receiving yards dropped in both 2010 and 2011, with the latter producing less than half the catches and yards of 2009 but in three more games.

Less plays on offense along with "fresher legs," as Hester has referred to more than once, helped return Devin to being Devin.

Then came the Mike Tice experience that was largely forgettable but obviously troubling to Hester. A career low in receiving yards other than his rookie year where he had zero receptions, and his issues with the offense seemed to carry over to his returns where he was making several questionable decisions of what to field and what not to field and ranked 22nd in the league with just an average of 8.3 return yards per punt.

He was again no longer being Devin. And that was about as cool as a Bears W flag.

At the risk of trying to make a strained parallel between teaching in the classroom and coaching, when you figure out what someone does well—and everyone does something well, even those that have been labeled "dumb"—you foster that, cultivate it so that the talent blooms to its fullest and maybe even has residual effects on the other things in the academic or sporting life. You do not force that bloom into the shade of what's standard or customary. Devin Hester had immense talent in a specific aspect of football, and the Bears jerked him back and forth until they broke him… almost.

New head coach Marc Trestman has granted Hester's wish to be exclusively a kick returner, and during a rainy Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings he seemed to be back in the sun. He broke his own franchise record of 225 single-game kickoff return yards with 249 in a thrilling 31-30 victory. But even more important is that the killer Devin of old might just be back in effect.

He was fired up after the Vikings Cordarrelle Patterson took the opening kickoff 105 yards for a score. There is only supposed to be one guy doing that at Soldier Field.

"Before the kickoff, I just said, 'I don't care how deep this guy kicks it, I am bringing it out,'" Hester said after the game. "And that's the mentality I told my (special teams teammates) about. If you get punched in the mouth like that, we're not going to just fold down and back down. If you kick it 9 (yards) deep, we're coming out. So don't expect me to take a knee."

Uh oh, league. Abandon all hope if ye olde Lord Devin the Elder hath returned from the crusades at wide receiver to reclaim his right to the return throne. All that stopped a motivated legend from adding touchdowns to his epic tale Sunday was the soggy turf, not the opponent. Now that he's free of baggage and doing the thing he's best at and only that, if he's returned to that killer instinct that made him a household name, Hester may make that much stronger of a case for enshrinement in Canton and be a much larger headache for opposing coaches' in-game strategies.

One of the most dangerous aspects of the Bears may also be the simplest. It's not complicated. He's not complicated.

Just let Devin be Devin.

Jeff Pearl
The author. (credit: Jeff Pearl)

Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for, Tim corrupts America's youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim's inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don't follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago's Beverly To read more of Tim's blogs click here.

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