Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer has faced the challenge of trying to contain Bears return specialist Devin Hester once before. It was Sept. 16, 2007 when Priefer accompanied the Chiefs to Soldier Field in Chicago as the Kansas city special teams coach.
Asked if he remembered much about that experience Thursday morning, Priefer recoiled.
“I do [recall] and I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “You guys can look it up. It was not a good day for me. That was a nightmare for about three months.”
The Bears won that afternoon 20-10. Hester contributed with a 73-yard second-quarter punt return for a touchdown. He added a 31-yard return in the third quarter that led to a Bears field goal and also contributed a 24-yard return late in the game.
For the day, Kansas City punter Dustin Colquitt averaged 22.8 net yards on eight punts. Oh, and Hester also had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was nullified by a holding penalty.
Yeah. No wonder Priefer is a little edgy when he thinks about his special teams facing Hester this week.
“Obviously, he’s the best in the business,” Priefer said. “I watched tape on him all offseason in studying our divisional opponents. Because obviously I didn’t know this division real well. And we’re studying him again this week – all his kickoff returns and punt returns from last year and this year. And there are so many good ones.
"The reason he’s so special is because obviously he has such great vision, which all great returners have. He’s exceptionally quick and explosive. And he sets up his returns so well. He can make a whole kickoff or punt team believe he’s going right, and all of a sudden, he’s going left. He makes people think he’s going middle and then he’s gone left or right. I mean he’s exceptional at that which makes him even more dangerous than the average returner.”
Priefer isn’t the only one having Hester flashbacks this week. Of Hester’s NFL-record 11 punt return touchdowns, three have come on returns against Vikings punter Chris Kluwe: a 45-yard score in 2006; an 89-yard TD in ‘07 and a 64-yard score last season.
Yep, Priefer is busy at work fine-tuning a new strategy to contain Hester.
"I don’t want to sit here and let Chicago know what we’re going to do," he said. "I will let you know we’re going to change our game plan a little bit from what we’ve been doing. We’re going to have to do that. He’s that good. I just can’t sit up here and tell you we’re going to go status quo against Devin Hester. That’s not going to happen."