Devin Hester may not have the same amount of records as a receiver that he does as a return man, but he's still a big play waiting to happen with the ball in his hands. Hester's a near lock for returning duties this year with the Falcons, but his role as a receiver is unclear. The talent Hester brings to the football field means whenever he does line up on offense, there's a chance to see something exciting.
Through Hester's eight seasons in the NFL, he's been a role player as a receiver, juggling those duties in Chicago with his returning job. Last season, Hester didn't see a single snap on offense, but in 2012, he was on the field for 369 snaps, an average of 23 per game. Wide receiver coach Terry Robiskie thinks how he was used in Chicago is a good barometer for how Atlanta will use him.
"I think Chicago's done a good job with him, moving him around and doing some things with him," Robiskie said last week. "We'll do the same. (We won't) sit down and say 'he's going to be a slot' or 'he's going to be an outsider.' We're going to try to move him around and match him up on some people and hopefully see some mismatches, get him matched up on some guys so he can catch the ball, pull away and do some additional things with it. Whatever that calls for, we just want to try to use him."
Hester described his role on offense as "here and there" and that sounds about right, but it doesn't mean nonexistent. Despite limited touches as an offensive player in his career, Hester has scored a receiving touchdown in every year of his career except his rookie season and 2013. With Julio Jones and Roddy White at the top of the depth chart, the Falcons don't need huge contributions from Hester, but they know when he's on the field, he adds more athleticism and big-play ability and teams will have to respect that.
Because he's so versatile, look for him to be used in a variety of ways including some surprising ones.
"He's just got to come in and do things he's been doing for years, try to be as dominant as he's been (at punt returner) for his whole career," Robiskie said. "From the receiver standpoint, we've got to be creative enough to come up with a couple of ideas, hopefully get the ball in his hands and let him get outside and do some things with it. Maybe come up with some trick stuff and surprise some people."