Devin Hester is the most prolific returner in NFL history. But at 34 years old, how much will he help the Seahawks in the playoffs?
RENTON — The Seahawks needed a kick and punt returner, and they signed one with a name and reputation as good as anyone in the NFL: Devin Hester.
Hester is the most prolific returner in NFL history — his 20 overall returns for a touchdown are an NFL record. He influenced games just by lining up to return a punt or kickoff.
“No. 1, I always go who you don’t want to play against,” Seahawks special-teams coach Brian Schneider said. “I’ve never wanted to play, never enjoyed playing against him. I would assume that most special-teams coaches would say that because he’s such a threat and he affects different things. He affects the way you punt the ball, kick the ball so he’s never a guy I look forward to going against.”
But Hester is 34 years old and was released in December by the Ravens. He isn’t the feared returner he was even a few years ago. But how much can he help the Seahawks in the playoffs?
“Nothing but good since he’s been in the league so we’ll see what he has,” Schneider said. “But he’s been excellent and we’ve played against him a lot so we’ve seen what he can do.”
Schneider was asked specifically about Hester’s speed and said it was obvious while watching tape of him playing for the Ravens: “He still has his stuff,” he said.
Hester tried out for the Patriots and said he was on the verge of signing with New England. But the Patriots decided to sign Michael Floyd, was who released from the Cardinals following his DUI arrest. Then the Seahawks called.
“I told my agent that if it was a team that was a playoff contender, I would sign,” Hester said. “But if it was a team that was just missing a returner and had no hopes of making it to the playoffs then I wasn’t going to sign anywhere. So I landed here.”
Hester said he has one goal.
“With the career that I had, I don’t have a Super Bowl ring,” he said. “What great opportunity do I have right now, standing here, in front of you guys and be able to play for the Seattle Seahawks.”
Hester averaged 24.5 yards per kick return (Lockett averaged 26.3 yards per return this season). Hester also averaged 7.2 yards per punt return and had two returns of longer than 20 yards (Lockett averaged 8.4 yards per return and had three returns of longer than 20 yards.
The big issue for Hester this season was taking care of the ball. Hester fumbled five times in 12 games — four while returning punts and once while returning kickoffs.
The Seahawks, under coach Pete Carroll, have never tolerated fumbling, and Lockett didn’t fumble in 15 games this season.
Hester had toe surgery in the offseason and said he wasn’t healthy until the start of the season. He said a lack of conditioning “hindered” him and so did a “lack of concentration on the ball at times.” He said he is in better condition.
Schneider, the Seahawks’ special-teams coach, said he wasn’t concerned about Hester’s fumble issues.
“He’s done it a lot and you go back on his history and he’s been really good for a long time,” he said.
Hester was a huge blue-chip recruit out of Florida while in high school, at a time when Carroll was still coaching at USC. Hester brought that connection up when he signed with the Seahawks this week.
“I told coach Pete he finally gave me a scholarship,” Hester said, smiling. “He was the only college that didn’t offer me a scholarship when I was in high school. So I said, ‘I appreciate you giving me a scholarship, coach.’”