Tabor: Devin Hester is Hall of Famer

BEREA, Ohio -- Earlier this season, Cleveland Browns special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor jokingly said certain punt and kickoff returners around the league give him sleepless nights in the week leading up to a game.

But that has not been the case with the Atlanta Falcons this week, who drop back ninth-year NFL record holder, and multi-time Pro Bowler, Devin Hester to return kickoffs and punts.

"I slept real well last night," Tabor said Thursday. "I slept like a baby, cried my way to sleep last night.

"He's a future Hall of Famer. I know him real well, have a lot of respect for him, not only as a player, but more importantly, as a person. It's a great challenge for our cover units. I have confidence in our coverage guys, so we'll see where we're at based off this returner."

Tabor knows very well the kind of impact Hester can have on a football game.

Before being named the Browns' special-teams coordinator prior to the 2011 season, Tabor was an assistant with the Chicago Bears from 2008-2010, where he got the opportunity to coach Hester for three seasons.

During those three seasons, Hester returned 89 punts for 949 yards and three touchdowns, and 50 kickoffs for 1,262 yards, but was no more effective on special teams than in 2010, Tabor's final year in Chicago, Hester returned 33 punts for 564 yards and three touchdowns.

"He catches the ball real well," Tabor said. "The thing that separates him obviously is his speed but more his vision and his instincts. Devin makes you cover the whole field as opposed to just a little bit of the field. With that, you have to take into consideration his talents. At the same time, we've got to play to our talents and our strengths, and we'll do that.

"Some people thought (he slowed), but this year, as you watch him on tape, I think he's kind of found the fountain of youth a little bit. He's not one of the leading punt returners because he hasn't had enough opportunities, but he's over 12 yards per return. Kickoff wise, he's making you cover the whole thing. He looks like old Devin to me."

In week three in September, Hester, a three-time Pro Bowler, broke former Atlanta cornerback Deion Sanders' NFL record for the most return touchdowns when he ran back a punt 62 yards for a touchdown in a 56-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

During that same game, when Hester scored a 20-yard touchdown on a reverse, he became only the second NFL player to score touchdowns rushing, receiving, on kick, punt and missed field goal returns.

Hester has returned an NFL record 14 punts for touchdowns, and has 20 special-teams scores in his career. Hester's 3,392 punt return yards are the most among all active players.

"A lot of memories with him," Tabor said. "One of them was a Monday night game when the Metrodome kind of collapsed. We had to go play at the University of Minnesota, and he set a record that night for punt returns. I can't remember exactly what it was, but it was a heck of a return.

"Probably my biggest memory of him though is you could stand over on the sideline and kind of say, ''Hess, what do you like?' He'd say, 'Coach, send me to the field,' and you'd say, 'The field it is.'

"He's a dynamic player, but at the same time, he's a true pro. That's why he's been playing a lot time and been so successful. I have a lot of stories. Not one really sticks out, but I think highly of him."

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