#proCanes Pat O'Donnell & Devin Hester Meet For The First Time

Bears punter Pat O'Donnell has never crossed paths with Devin Hester.

O'Donnell is only a rookie after all. And even though he, like Hester, played his college ball at Miami, what he knows about the legendary return specialist comes mostly from watching highlights.

"He's an explosive player," O'Donnell said Wednesday. "He's great in the open field. So you need to take that away from him."

With that scouting report needing a bit more detail this week, that makes O'Donnell's special teams mentor, Robbie Gould, a pretty valuable resource. Gould spent eight seasons as Hester's teammate, gaining a profound appreciation for his explosiveness on game day and his meticulous preparation methods.

"He's the best returner to ever play," Gould said. "He doesn't just catch the ball and run really fast. He sets up his returns really well. He sees the return really well. And when he sees green space, he's going to go find it."

Yes, the Bears are well aware of the challenge that awaits them when they head to the Georgia Dome on Sunday to face Hester and the Falcons. From 2006 to '13, Hester was a keg full of dynamite as a returner for the Bears, delivering 19 regular-season return touchdowns.

Three weeks ago, he recorded his NFL-record 20th return score, taking a Buccaneers punt 62 yards to the end zone.

So the Bears have decisions to make this week on how to handle Hester — whether to kick to him, where to kick to him, how to align their coverages.

Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis knows the importance of homework in a week like this. But when asked if the challenge of facing the greatest returner in league history is fun for him, DeCamillis leaned back and laughed.

"Yeah, this is a blast, man," he said with obvious sarcasm. "I'm having a blast right now."

The Bears are far from the first team to have Hester anxiety. In nine seasons, including Super Bowl XLI, Hester has delivered 21 return scores against 14 teams off of 16 kickers and punters.

The obvious armchair advice is to kick away from him, to send kickoffs through the end zone whenever possible and to angle punts toward the seats.

But Gould notes the dangers involved in trying only to drill kickoffs through the field of play, potentially creating line drives without great hang time that Hester might snag a yard or two from the end line, fueling his aggressiveness.

And on the suggestion of consistently firing punts out of bounds, DeCamillis notes the pitfalls there too.

"It's a lot easier (to say) to just hit the ball out of bounds than what people think," DeCamillis said. "You have to protect for the rush. … Otherwise, everybody would do it. I'm sure at Soldier Field, you probably saw it a lot where people hit 20-yard punts trying to do that."

Hester is no doubt itching for a chance to make his former organization pay. On a conference call Wednesday, he admitted he was bothered by the Bears' decision to move in a different direction last winter, allowing his contract to expire in March and never seriously considering a new deal for the 10 days he sat on the free-agent market.

"They didn't offer me no contract," Hester said. "They didn't call me, period. … I just had to take it the way it was."

Past business aside, Hester has a more pressing focus on finding a way to make an impact Sunday. He called O'Donnell a young player "trying to get a feel for the game right now." And his familiarity with Gould, he says, gives him an understanding of the kicker's strengths and shortcomings.

Asked specifically what Gould's weaknesses are, Hester paused.

"Robbie knows," he said with a chuckle.

Gould, however, wants it known he has no aversion to putting the ball in Hester's hands.

"Devin knows my tendencies," he said. "But I've got a good game plan ready for him. … It's not about shying away from Devin. Listen, he puts a lot of pressure on you as a kicker. But you talk about having opportunities to play against a great player, and you have to step up and play great."

Hester's most recent return score — that 62-yarder against Lovie Smith's Bucs in Week 3 — flashed reminders of his brilliance, his speed, savvy, vision and agility all exploding like a firework.

"We've got to get to him fast and make sure we wrap up," said Bears rookie Senorise Perry, a member of the punt coverage team. "He loves to do anything outrageous to get a touchdown. He's kind of a daredevil. He'll try anything."

Perry has been marveling at Hester highlights since he grew up a Miami Hurricanes fan with Hester as one of his favorite players. Asked if he would introduce himself Sunday, Perry smiled.

"I'm kind of nervous when I get around people like that," he said.

Hester can have that effect.

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