By Adam Hoge-
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — If Devin Hester surprises everybody this season and once again becomes the dominant return man he once was, the Bears won’t have to look too hard for a slogan.
Stemming from Hester’s offseason race against a cheetah for a National Geographic special, the return man used the phrase to describe how he ran in Thursday’s team conditioning test.
“I think I was one of the ones who was a little cheetah fast,” he said.
Hester arrived to training camp this year with more doubt about his future than ever before in his career, but the 30-year-old return man is still beaming with the same familiar confidence.
“I’m more motivated than anything,” he said. “You can tell that from this offseason when I went and trained with a cheetah. I was looking to boost my stock up a little bit and hopefully after this season is over I’ll have some great numbers.”
Hester is one of many key players entering the final year of his current contract and, having been completely removed off the wide receiver depth chart by the new coaching staff, there’s a chance he won’t even make the 53-man roster. But like many of the other players playing in a contract year, he’s using his current situation as motivation.
“I’m more excited that this is my contract year,” Hester said. “I’d rather do my contract after the season is over because the way I’m feeling now, I can boost my stock up a whole lot from where it’s at now.”
At least on the surface, Hester has come a long way since Lovie Smith was fired at the end of last season. Minutes after the team was told of Smith’s fate last winter, Hester stood at his locker and threatened to retire. But the Hester seen in Bourbonnais Thursday was the complete opposite.
“I’m happy and I’m having fun,” he said. “And when you have a happy Devin Hester, you don’t want to get rid of him. That’s the way it is now.”
Happy or sad, the Bears just want to see a dangerous return man on the field. And if they have to credit a cheetah for the turnaround, then so be it.
“I’m going to go pay him a visit, you know, feed him some steaks and all kind of great organic foods,” Hester said.
Asked if he beat the cheetah in the race, Hester paused before saying: “Two-three would never let you down.”
Thursday’s conditioning test was not open to the media and the reports back from the players were unreliable. Hester and defensive end Shea McClellin both said everyone passed the test, but defensive tackle Stephen Paea later said that there were a few who did not make their time.
The word is, however, that all of the significant players on the roster passed without any issues.
“It shows up pretty clearly in the third (rep) who prepared for the season and who didn’t,” quarterback Jay Cutler said on “Bears All Access” on 670 The Score Thursday evening.
Cutler added that Hester, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall all looked good running the three-rep 300-yard shuttle.
A New Yoda
While most of the defensive philosophy is staying the same this year, the Bears are still dealing with coaching turnover on that side of the ball. Well respected defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is now gone and Mike Phair, who was a part of the previous staff, has taken over the defensive line duties.
“Marinelli was like Yoda to Fair,” McClellin said. “So you know, Fair is stepping up. He’s the new Yoda.”
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.