After successfully containing Saints running back and kick returner Darren Sproles last Sunday, there will be no rest for the Buccaneers’ special teams unit in London this week.
Going from one of the best in Sproles, to the absolute best in Devin Hester, Raheem Morris and special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes have no intentions of allowing Hester to add to his NFL-record 17 kick returns for touchdowns.
"Devin Hester will have to go against our Pro Bowler, hopefully our Pro Bowler, a grass skirt guy if we can get him into one, in Michael Koenen,'' Morris said Thursday. "Hopefully we can directional kick and do some different things but if we have to kick to him, like last week, we played Sproles who is a dynamic kick returner and we were able to keep the ball away from him and limit his touches, that's what we'll have to do.''
The second round selection of Hester from Miami in 2006, who was originally drafted as a defensive back, was criticized by Chicago fans and media at the time. All Hester did to quiet the critics was return two kickoffs and three punts for touchdowns as a rookie.
Hester has already found the end zone this season, returning a kickoff 98 yards last Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings. Hester’s 17 touchdowns have come in just 82 career games.
Bears head coach and former Buccaneers assistant Lovie Smith, commented he stopped being surprised about Hester’s abilities a long time ago.
“In the time that Devin has been here, we’ve seen it all,” Smith said. “Once a player gets hot and starts returning a lot, often the next approach is to kick it away from him. That’s been a common thing we’ve seen in games.
“But this year, teams have kicked the ball off to him quite a bit. He’s our kickoff returner and our punt returner, so he’s getting a few opportunities. Right now, teams are kicking it off and saying they’re just going to cover and we hope teams continue to do that.”
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler said on a conference call Wednesday to the media at One Buccaneer Place that Hester’s kick returns are game changers.
“On our sideline, the biggest thing when special teams is out there is whether they’re going to kick it to him or not,” Cutler said on a conference call today. “Because, if they do, there’s a strong chance it could possibly get returned for a touchdown.”
Besides being the NFL’s best return man, Hester has developed as a quality wide receiver and has 17 receptions for 262 yards and one touchdown this year.
“Whenever (he scores), it’s so dramatic,” Cutler added. “It’s such a kill shot for the other team. It takes the life out of them. He’s come so far as a receiver and his ability to be able to do both is phenomenal.”
New Orleans’ Sproles was a dual threat that Tampa Bay was able to contain but Hester may prove to be more difficult. The former Hurricane has seen time on offense, defense and special teams this season and if the Buccaneers want to fly home from London victorious is may all depend on how well they keep No. 23 under wraps.