By Adam Hoge-

HALAS HALL (CBS) When Lovie Smith was let go on New Year’s Eve, no player took the firing harder than Devin Hester.

“I don’t even know if I want to play again,” Hester said at his locker that day.

The long-time returner for the Bears appears to have had a change of heart however, despite being relieved of his wide receiver duties by a new coaching staff.

“I wasn’t really thinking about what I was saying,” Hester explained Thursday after the Bears completed their three-day voluntary mini-camp. “That’s in the past. You say things that you don’t really mean when you’re upset.”

Hester spent most of this week standing on the sideline with his helmet in his hand, participating only in special teams drills. He insists that’s not bothering him, however.

“It’s not that stressful,” he said. “I’m enjoying myself, having fun with the special teams guys. Robbie (Gould) and Patrick (Mannelly) and those guys are pretty cool to hang out with. So I got a feeling those are the type of guys I can add to my collection of new friends on the team.”

Someone might need to remind Hester that Gould and Mannelly have been around longer than he has, but such is the new role for the guy some call the best returner to ever play the game.

“It kind of reminds me of back in the days in my rookie and second year when I was pretty much a returner,” Hester said. “Game-time came and I was fresh and I was able to be a little more explosive.”

That’s exactly the kind of thinking the old regime missed when they signed Hester to an extension that included wide receiver escalator clauses. Second-year general manager Phil Emery and new head coach Marc Trestman, however, have seen the tape and decided Hester will no longer be a part of the offense.

Of course, until the season starts, that will lead to speculation that Hester will eventually be cut as teams rarely keep a guy who can only return kicks and punts. But then again, most returners aren’t Devin Hester.

The question then becomes, can he still be the explosive returner he once was? At least through Hester’s eyes,  Trestman and the new coaching staff believe he can.

“They want to see me do good,” Hester said. “Whatever it takes to bring this special teams back to the return game we used to have. They want that. They really really want that. They told me, ‘This is your passion, we know what you’re good at, we know what you’re great at. Let’s get it back to where it was.'”

For now, Hester has put his emotions behind him and is seeing eye-to-eye with the new coaching staff. He appears to have a great relationship with new special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis after a lengthy meeting the two had together when DeCamillis joined the staff.

“We were just on the same page from the first word I said to the last word he said,” Hester explained.

And how does Hester feel about getting a look on the kick and punt coverage units?

“We’ll see. It will be fun,” he said. “I haven’t done it in a while, but at the same time I’m a team ballplayer. Whereever these guys need me, that’s where I’m going to fit.”

Right now, he doesn’t have any other choice.

For more Bears coverage, follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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