When it comes to return man Devin Hester, punting out of bounds easier said than done

ALLEN PARK -- Just saying Devin Hester's name causes Detroit Lions punter Nick Harris to shake his head. 

Hester, the long-time Chicago Bears return man, is the stuff of nightmares for NFL kickers and punter.

"He's fearless, he's willing to take risks with the ball, and he knows exactly what to do to get the ball up the field," Harris said. "He's the best ever."

It's tough to argue that assessment. Hester is the NFL's all-time leader in touchdown returns, bringing back 12 punts and five kickoffs for scores in his first six seasons. He's done it twice against the Lions, once with a kickoff in 2007 and on a punt last season.

Kassim Osgood, a gunner on punt coverage, will be one of the first men down the field trying to drop Hester before he can find a crease. Osgood knows Hester doesn't need long to identify an opening.

"He's daring," Osgood said. "He'll take a chance on a gap that most people think would close, and it will stay open long enough for him to get through there."
A prevailing thought to negate Hester's abilities is to simply punt out of bounds every time. Logically, if he doesn't touch the ball, he can't make an impact. Unfortunately, effectively executing that strategy is easier said than done.

"Everybody in golf tries to hit the fairway," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Sometimes they hit it in the rough, sometimes they hit in the woods. I'm talking about guys on the PGA tour, guys in major tournaments and things like that. People watching say, 'Jeez, why can't he hit in the fairway?' There's definitely that element to it."

Harris said on a perfect day, kicking it out of bounds with good distance is easier, but he couldn't guarantee boots longer than 25 yards when factoring in the typically unpredictable swirling winds in Solider Field. Considering his career net average is 35.7 yards, that's a potential 10-yard swing in field position with each punt.

If the opportunity to put the ball out of bounds presents itself, Lions players don't view it as conceding or a sign of weakness.

"No, not at all," Osgood said. "It's all a matter of strategy. Most people want to limit his touches."

Harris agrees.

"He has a higher percentage chance than anyone else to take it back for a touchdown. If you can eliminate a shot on goal, or an opportunity to return the football, why not?"

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