It is qite clear special teams will be a focus in Tampa Bay for Lovie Smith and his new staff, and not just an afterthought and a necessary evil as some coaches treat it. Finding a dynamic kick returner is something that many feel will be a priority in free agency or the draft for Tampa Bay, and one prolific returner has his hand raised hoping Smith picks him.
Speaking on NFL Network on Wednesday night Chicago’s Devin Hester made it clear he wouldn’t mind receiving a phone call from his former coach.
“(Bucs coach) Lovie (Smith) is my number one coach right now because he’s the one who took a chance on me coming out in the draft,’’ Hester said. “He has all my respect, so if he . . . (asks) me to come play wit him again, my arms are open.’’
Something Smith stressed back in January during his initial press conference and meeting with the Bucs beat writers shortly thereafter was the importance of special teams play.
“To me, if you play great defense, you can win eight games,” Smith said. “If you have special teams along with that, you can win 10. But in order for us to have three phases that contribute to wins, we need a great returner also.”
The Bucs had first-year player Eric Page returning kicks and punts last year with some level of success. Page averaged 24.9 yards per kick return and 10.9 yards per punt return in 2013.
But Smith might have someone else in mind in 2014.
“Special teams, we win out,” Smith said. “I, myself, worked out Devin Hester. You’ve got to have a returner. You can win games. We won games based on our special teams and having a good kicker and a good punter.”
Hester finished the 2013 season with 52 kickoffs for a league-leading 1,436 yards as well as 18 punts for 256 yards and a touchdown.
The Bears second-round pick in 2006, who is tied Deion Sanders’ record for career special teams touchdowns with 19, was hoping to finish his career with the Bears but it appears that won’t happen.
“I know Chicago wants to go a different route with me,’’ he said. “All I can say is thanks to the fans for the support. They’ve always been great to me, loyal. But I know right now they’re kind of parting ways with me.’’
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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