Smith: Hester's role unchanged

Updated: March 24, 2010, 2:15 PM ET
ESPNChicago.com

Despite talk of returning him to the specialist role that made him a star, Devin Hester will be used as much as possible on offense next season, according to Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith.

New offensive coordinator Mike Martz has said the Bears would be "judicious" in how they use Hester on offense. Hester also has said he would like to get back to what he says he does best -- returning punts and kickoffs.

But Smith, who discussed a variety of Bears topics with reporters Tuesday at the NFL meetings in Orlando, said despite Martz's comments, the plan for Hester hasn't changed.

"I don't know whose plan that was," Smith told Chicago reporters on Tuesday. "Mike had been here a few days, you kind of hit him with questions. He likes the potential of Devin as a full-time receiver. I don't see him [getting fewer snaps]. Not right now. To me, if you have a player as exciting as Hester, you want to get him as many touches as you possibly can. We're not going in saying he's going to get more plays or less plays. We'll keep all our options open.

"We definitely will still use him as a wide receiver. It will probably be the same role as last year -- punt returner and full-time receiver. Mike is very comfortable with him being one of our lead receivers, and it is unlimited what he can do."

In an interview with the team's Web site on Feb. 9, Martz was asked about Hester's role in the offense next season.

"I think he's still the best special teams return guy in the league, period," Martz said. "We have to be careful about how much we ask him to do on offense. That's really a reason the Bears have won some games, is because of Devin and what he does in the return game. So we'll be very judicious in what we ask him to do offensively. But he'll be very involved and we'll ask him to do some really dynamic things where we can get him isolated in [favorable] personnel matchups."

Hester scored 11 touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns spanning the 2006 and 2007 regular seasons, and returned a kick for a score in the Bears' Super Bowl loss to the Colts in 2007. In an effort to get his play-making ability on the field more, Bears coaches turned Hester into a receiver before the 2008 season, and the experiment has had mixed results.

Hester has averaged 54 catches for 711 yards in his two full seasons as a receiver, but his return game has suffered. He hasn't scored a touchdown on a return since Dec. 30, 2007 against the New Orleans Saints. After returning 31 kicks without a score in 2008, Hester returned just seven in 2009 as Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox got the bulk of the work.

"I know what I'm best at," Hester said last month on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "The return game is my bread and butter, so if I had to cut back on my receiving and go back to returning, that's something I would love to do."