Sayers piles on Bears returner Hester

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Earlier Thursday we brought you Devin Hester's take on his season so far. "I'm frustrated," he told Chicago-area reporters. Now let's move on to the surprisingly frontal opinion of former Chicago great Gale Sayers, who had some choice words for the Bears returner/receiver.

In an interview with Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune, Sayers said: "It looks like he's afraid to run back kickoffs."


Sayers went on:

"He's running everything up the middle. [The Bears return team] might have a middle return on, but if every [defender] is going to the middle, he has enough speed to go outside. He's not doing it. He's running straight up the field and everybody is tackling him. He looks like he's afraid to go out on his own. A couple of times the other team would kick to the right and [Hester] would run to the right and run out of bounds. It's like he doesn't want to run the kickoffs back. Run to the left. You have the whole field!"

Asked if he had any other advice, Sayers said:

"I was not worried about getting hurt. Does that have anything to do with him as a return player now because he takes the hard shots? Maybe he doesn't like getting hit. ... I don't know. It looks to me like he needs to go out on his own like he did the first year. He still has the speed and everything. But he's not taking a chance like he did. You have to take a chance."

There is a general agreement that Hester has been uncharacteristically hesitant this season. The difference of opinion is why. Sayers suggests Hester is avoiding contact, but there are other possibilities.

Hester tore cartilage in his rib cage earlier this season, a painful injury that makes some basic movements difficult. Is the injury still bothering him? Did it create some bad habits?

There is also the added distraction of playing receiver. Hester's additional duties on offense, shouldn't necessarily cause a dropoff in returns -- which are based on instinct as much as anything. But there have been times when Hester has looked, for lack of better a term, disinterested in finishing off his returns, diving at the feet of potential tacklers rather than trying to squeeze around them.

Hester's struggles this season have been a secondary storyline in Chicago, where the Bears' defensive woes have received priority attention. But direct criticism from a legend like Sayers adds some weight to the questions surrounding Hester.