NFL Preview: Hester Will Determine Chicago's Fate
The Chicago Bears enter the 2013 season with some familiar faces and some new ones. All eyes will be on the offense with first year head coach Marc Trestman brining his innovative approach from the CFL and on a defense that while older, is still formidable. The difference between a so-so season and a special one however, may come down to special teams.
While the Bears have seemingly addressed many needs this off season, drafting Jon Bostic to replace Brian Urlacher, adding some much needed beef up front to protect Jay Cutler, and bringing in tight end Martellus Bennett, the key to the season may come down to someone who will be seeing the field considerably less.
Devin Hester is back where he belongs. After some ups and downs the last few years pulling double duty between wide receiver and return man, Hester will now focus primarily on running back kicks and punts. The greatest return man ever will be back deep, and unlike recent campaigns, he won't be winded from a series of post and fly routes prior to each return chance.
Hester's 2012 was rough. For the first time in years he didn't take a punt or a kick to the house. He's older. It's not 2006. Being able to focus almost solely on the return game in 2013 however, could lead to a resurgence for the Windy City Flyer.
Hester is still respected throughout the NFL. Teams know he can break one at any time. Therefore, it's not just about touchdowns. Of course Chicago would like to see Hester cross the goal line a few times, but really his worth is still high even if he doesn't put six points on the board.
As long as teams worry about Hester that will help the Bears greatly. Kicking away from him, knocking a kickoff out of bounds, and shanking a punt or two results in good field position for Chicago. Habitually starting around the 40 as opposed to the 20 could spell the difference between a playoff berth and another near miss.
There are plenty of unknowns for the Monsters of the Midway this year. Can an aging defense still create the big turnover when needed? Will Cutler and company buy in to the new offensive scheme? Is Robbie Gould as good as gold coming off of an injury?
These queries all seem to be tilting toward the yes column. Lance Briggs is still a beast. Julius Peppers seems ready to roll. The ageless Charles Tillman is coming off of one of his best years yet. Additions like Bostic and the ball hawking Khaseem Greene should keep the big play defense in effect in the post-Lovie Smith era.
Cutler is in a make or break contract year. He knows success can only be attained if he works with Trestman and the new staff. With Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, and the revamped line, he has the chance to do big things.
One of the most accurate place kickers in NFL history seems to be all healed up after missing the end of last season. His accuracy in training camp and the preseason suggests field goals and PATs will not be a problem for the Navy and Orange.
So, the final story of the 2013 Chicago Bears could very well be written by Hester. With today's parody, the league is made up of two or three power teams, two or three terrible teams, and then a bunch of clubs that could fall anywhere between 5-11 and 12-4. The Bears are one of them. Injuries, the bounce of the ball, and in Chicago's case, field position will determine things.
The NFC North is a tough division. There isn't much room for error for the Bears. But, remember, this group won ten ball games last season even though they ended up outside the playoff picture looking in. The Bears could be a contender if an old return weapon is dusted off and used properly.
All eyes are on the unorthodox Trestman in Chicago. He's not your usual coach, looks-wise or otherwise. If he wins, we'll say he's an eccentric brainiac. If he loses they'll call him weird. Which moniker he's labeled with may ride on the feet of #23.