Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. – Open up the NFL’s record and fact book, flip to page 554 and spot the leader for most touchdowns in a career on punt returns and you find Devin Hester’s name there, tied for first with 10 since entering the league in 2006.
One of those returns came against New Orleans, a 64-yard punt return in 2007 in a 33-25 Bears win over the Saints.
Four years later, the Saints (0-1) hope they can contain not just the Bears (1-0), but Hester. New Orleans hosts Chicago on Sunday (noon)
“He’s a combination of speed and power,” Saints special teams ace Korey Hall said. “He does a great job. He’s a very productive guy, and I think he’s somebody we have to try to manage, whether that’s punting so our gunners can make a play, or punting out of bounds, or trying to get the ball outside the numbers.”
Hall might know best that Hester hasn’t lost a step.
He spent four years in Green Bay, playing in the same division as the Bears. In September, Hester had a 62-yard punt return against Hall’s Packers.
But the Saints have to be careful not to focus solely on Hetser’s special teams prowess.
He’s turning into a go-to receiver for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Hester caught three passes for 60 yards against Atlanta in Week 1, his longest a 53-yarder. He was targeted a total of five times, the second-most on the team behind running back Matt Forte.
“His speed is noticeable when you watch the tapes and I think clearly you have to have an idea of where 23 is offensively,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said Hester’s ability stands out in the Bears’ screen game.
In the third quarter of Chicago’s game Sunday, Hester caught a screen pass from Cutler and escaped Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, going eventually for 53 yards.
Williams said the Saints’ coaches impress upon the players that stopping a screen play from having success relies on more than just one player.
“When you don’t see teams that pursue really strong and fast to screens, that’s when you get the big plays,” Williams sad. “When there’s one or two guys out there in the open field, that’s when a Devin Hester or a (Matt) Forte can make you miss those positions.”