Every time he sees Devin Hester operate, Brandon Marshall feels humbled. And the most recent performance really impressed him.
Hester made an impact on offense after asking to be more involved, coming through with an impressive touchdown catch to help the Chicago Bears beat the Dallas Cowboys 34-18 on Monday.
It was a good night for a record-setting return specialist who has never quite delivered the way the Bears hoped he would on offense. He has, however, been productive at times as a receiver, and when Marshall looks at Hester, he’s in awe.
“I’m striving to be on his level,” he said.
It sounds strange coming from a three-time Pro Bowl receiver with five straight seasons with more than 1,000 yards. After all, it was Marshall’s arrival in a trade with Miami in the offseason that sent expectations soaring because it gave the Bears a No. 1 receiver and reunited Jay Cutler with his favorite target from Denver.
They believed that with defenses focusing on Marshall, there would be opportunities for other receivers. They also saw the potential to put up big numbers, to make opposing defenses miserable.
They did it in a season-opening win over Indianapolis and again against Dallas after struggling in a loss at Green Bay and a win over the Rams.
Hester, meanwhile, had been mostly a nonfactor on offense with two catches in the opener and none in the next two games. He let a high pass in the end zone go through his hands as he tried to make a leaping catch against St. Louis, but against Dallas he was targeted four times and wound up with three catches for 38 yards, none bigger than his 34-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.
“He’s a Hall of Fame player, it’s in the return game, but when you see greatness you have to humble yourself and really try to observe and see what he’s doing to be great,” Marshall said.
On the TD, Hester made a lunging catch with the defense keying on Marshall to extend the lead to 17-7.
“I felt if I could get more opportunities to make plays that I could make them,” Hester said. “That’s the most important thing about making plays is getting the opportunity to make them. Once you get the opportunities, you’ve got to take advantage of them. The more opportunities you get, the more plays you can make.”
And he said offensive coordinator Mike Tice told him there would be chances in that game.
“That catch shows you what he’s capable of doing,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We’ll continue to find ways to get him the ball.”
The Bears envisioned Hester making big plays on offense when they started using him at the end of the 2007 season. They gave him a four-year contract extension through 2013 the following year with the idea that he would become a key contributor on offense. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
He has struggled at times to grasp the plays, and his production on special teams took a hit before it rebounded in recent years. But the Bears continue to use him on offense because of his potential for big plays.
“It’s more on us getting him the ball and getting him involved like we did Monday night,” Marshall said. “That was a step forward.”
-Tice brushed off Monday’s sideline incident with Cutler, saying, “Jay and I are good.” It didn’t appear that way when Tice took a seat next to his quarterback on the sideline and Cutler walked away as he started to talk. Tice had been venting that a third-and-1 play did not work. “I was in his ear from the time he came off the field to the time he went over and put his helmet down,” Tice said. “At a certain point, probably, enough’s enough.” Cutler said, “It’s so prevalent in the media for whatever reason, but it wasn’t an issue then and it’s not an issue now.
-Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew said he hasn’t had any discussions with Cutler since he ripped him on Twitter. Jones-Drew was one of many current and former players who jumped on the quarterback after he left the NFC championship game two years ago with a knee injury. “I never got a chance to work it out with him. But that was two years ago. I’m just happy that he’s smiling. For a while, he wasn’t smiling during the year and you always want to see players having fun and enjoying the game.”
-Smith said RB Matt Forte had “just normal soreness” from Monday’s game. Forte aggravated his right ankle sprain on his first carry, but he got it re-taped and finished the game. Smith also said FB Evan Rodriguez would not have participated had the Bears gone through a full workout rather than a walk-through on Wednesday.
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