It has been nearly two years since Devin Hester ran his way into a special-teams award but he did it on Sunday with a franchise-record 249 yards of kickoff returns, good enough to earn Hester honors as the NFC special teams player of the week.
Hester broke kickoff returns of 80 and 76 yards against the Minnesota Vikings and his aggregate return yardage contributed to the Bears having an average drive starting point of their 37 vs. Minnesota’s average of its own 22.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was not surprised by Hester’s performance. Tomlin was the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive coordinator in 2006, Hester’s rookie year. So as far as last Sunday:
“I saw him being him,” Tomlin said. “I saw him with the ball in his hands and making splash plays for the Chicago Bears. That’s not out of the ordinary from my perspective. [You’re] talking to a guy who was the [defensive] coordinator in Minnesota and stood on opposite sidelines from the guy, I know what he’s capable of.”
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The award marked the 13th time in Hester’s eight-year career that he has been ‘teams player of the week and the first since Nov. 13, 2011 when he returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions.
The Vikings began directing kicks expressly away from Hester last Sunday and the Steelers are likely to try the same.
“Obviously, like anyone else, you try to limit your exposure to him, first and foremost,” Tomlin said. “He’s one of the most legendary return men for that reason. If given a number of opportunities, he’s gonna get you.
“You work to minimize those, but obviously you understand that over the course of the football game he’s going to have his opportunities, and you better go about it in an intelligent manner with respect for what he’s capable of.”