By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — There was an unexpected sight Wednesday at Halas Hall.
As players left their stretching lines and broke into positional groups for individual drills, return specialist Devin Hester followed the defensive backs into the Northeast corner of the Walter Payton Center.
The former wide receiver, who has now been reduced to just a returner, usually stands off to the side with the specialists, but Wednesday, he was right there in line with the cornerbacks, taking shots at the tackling dummy and handling loose footballs.
“Sometimes he’ll hop in from time to time and get a little work in. There’s really no news there,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said.
But Hester also stayed after practice and worked 1-on-1 with defensive backs coach Jon Hoke, which is definitely out of the norm.
“We try to keep Devin as busy as we can throughout the course of practice, but you never know. You never know,” head coach Marc Trestman said. “We certainly want to keep him doing what he’s been doing. But he does have value, certainly, doing other things and who knows? Nothing’s out of the question. It’s not something we’ve spent a lot of time talking about.”
Hester was drafted out of Miami in 2006 as a cornerback and spent his rookie season playing the position for the Bears, recording 11 tackles and one pass break up as a reserve. It became pretty obvious, however, that he was not suited to be an NFL corner and the Bears moved him to wide receiver in 2007.
After six years as a receiver, the Bears decided to limit Hester to just return duties this season and they were pretty adamant about doing so. That’s why a return to cornerback would be extremely surprising.
In fairness, Hester did work a little bit with the defensive backs in OTAs last spring, but he has not been seen with the unit since, at least not in the portion of practices open to the media.
It should also be mentioned that nickelback Isaiah Frey was held out of practice Wednesday with a fractured hand, and the Bears may have just needed another body at the position in practice. Charles Tillman is out for the rest of the regular season with a triceps tear.
Of course, by saying, “Nothing’s out of the question,” Trestman certainly didn’t do anything to squash speculation that Hester could return to the position in which he started his NFL career.
Chances are, though, it’s just the Bears covering themselves in case of emergency.
Cast Off Cutler
Quarterback Jay Cutler has already been ruled out of Sunday’s game in St. Louis, but it appears his high ankle sprain is making some progress. Cutler was out of his cast Wednesday and wearing just a small brace under his normal shoes as he helped out with quarterback drills in practice.
So does that mean he could return against the Vikings Dec. 1?
“I’m going to stay on a just week-to-week because I’ve stayed pretty consistent with it,” Trestman said. “I’m really not the doctor. They tell me it’s week-to-week. I try not to put myself in a position where I get overly optimistic about these things. I just take them as they come, so I look at it as being week-to-week right now, and we’ll see where he is on Monday.”
Ratliff Making Progress
Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff did a little more in practice Wednesday, participating in individual drills for the first time. He was officially listed as “limited” on the injury report and is not expected to play Sunday against the Rams.
“I would not say that it would be this Sunday, and we’ll re-evaluate it next week,” Trestman said. “That could change, but to be fair with the situation, I would say that we’re still a little bit away.”
– Defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring) and long snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) both returned to practice in full Wednesday. They are expected to play Sunday. McClellin said if the game was Wednesday, he would have played.
– Defensive tackle Stephen Paea (turf toe) and safety Craig Steltz (concussion) were both held out of practice. Steltz is currently going through the concussion protocol and did some running on the side. Trestman said Steltz “was extremely alive” Wednesday, which certainly beats the alternative.
– Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan (eye) did not practice Wednesday. Known for being feisty on the field, he has struggled a little bit this year and has missed three games due to injury.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.