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In Debut With Dallas, Moorman Must Account For Hester


IRVING, Texas – Adjusting to a new locker room and teammates won't be punter Brian Moorman's most difficult task in his first week in Dallas.

Each time Moorman boots the ball across the field against the Bears, the most dangerous returner in football history will await each punt. Devin Hester's 12 career punt return touchdowns rank first all-time.

"He's obviously one of the best, if not the best, in the league," Moorman said. "You've got to have a lot of respect for him and what he has accomplished and what he can accomplish every time he touches the ball. It's obviously something we're talking about and we're going to try to prepare for."

Hester's only had six returns this season and hasn't taken one back for a score. But one of those punt returns went for more than 23 yards, and Chicago coach Lovie Smith said the game changer is still capable of breaking one loose.

Hester returned two punts for touchdowns last season and three the year before. Since 2007, when he returned four of his 42 punt returns for touchdowns, punters started to learn their lesson. Hester's never returned more than 33 punts in his previous four seasons, as punters stay away from the game changer.

"As a returner, it's just hard to be special and have a touchdown on returns every game," Smith said. "You go through some spells where it doesn't happen. You get that momentum going, then you run off a couple games. Not scoring right now, I can see why you would question where Devin is right now, but he's a young player still, and I still believe his best returns are ahead of him."

The last time Hester went a whole season without returning a kick or a punt for a touchdown was in 2009, when his season was limited with a calf injury. After the 2007 season, Hester also moved into a more permanent role in the offense as a receiver.

But Smith said teams are still cautious when they send the ball deep to Hester.

"I know Devin hasn't taken one back to the house yet this year, but he's been close and getting better and better," Smith said. "He's just another weapon to try to get points on the board. We put a big emphasis on playing special teams around here. Guys know if they can just give Devin a little bit of space, there's a chance that they can see something special."

Moorman's not the only one who has to prepare for the dynamic returner. Kicker Dan Bailey said he's been more consistent on his kickoffs, but even if he kicks it deep against Chicago, Hester could still take the ball out.

Hester's recorded seven combined kick returns of more than 40 yards in his two previous seasons, including one touchdown. He's averaged 27.3 yards per kick return this year, taking four of his seven returns for more than 20 yards. Bailey said he knows at any point Hester can record his first kick return touchdown of the season.

"He's one of the best ever," Bailey said. "He's that guy that could be nine deep and is still going to bring it out. That's just his mentality. I'm going to take it as a personal challenge and try to go head-to-head with him and eliminate his chances as much as I can. Hopefully as a team we all can do that even more, collectively."

The last time Hester played the Cowboys in 2010, he was more dangerous as a receiver than a returner, catching four passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. He only returned one punt for negative yardage, while Dez Bryant returned a punt for a touchdown against the Bears.

The Cowboys will need to swarm the returner again if they want to keep him in check. Special teams ace Danny McCray will likely be starting at safety this week, but head coach Jason Garrett said they may need him to stay on certain special teams units to account for Hester.

"Hester is a big-time returner," Garrett said. "Everybody knows that. Might go down as one of the greats ever in this league. So, it'll be a real challenge for us. We'll need all hands on deck."

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