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Bears' Hester eyes another return record

(Charles Rex Arbogast (STF))
The Bears' Devin Hester returns a Robert Malone punt 82 yards for a touchdown as the Detroit Lions' Justin Durant tries to tackle Hester on Nov. 13 at Soldier Field. Hester needs one more return touchdown to tie Deion Sanders' record of 19.

LAKE FOREST – Devin Hester paused to ponder the question.

If he were an opposing team, would he kick the ball to himself?

“Yeah,” Hester said Friday with a mischievous grin.

The Indianapolis Colts might be wise to decide differently in Sunday’s regular-season opener at Soldier Field.

Hester, 29, is the most accomplished kick returner in NFL history as he enters his seventh season with the Bears. He has 17 kick return touchdowns (12 punts, five kickoffs) along with a missed field goal return touchdown in 2006, which places him within one return touchdown of Deion Sanders’ all-time record of 19.

Could Hester tie or surpass the player known as “Prime Time” this season? The thought has crossed his mind more than once.

“It does,” Hester said. “I’m not going to sit here and say it doesn’t. It’s one more record I can accomplish.

“I have a lot more years in me, so I’m hoping I can get that [record] as soon as possible so that question and that thought can erase in my mind, and I can go ahead and continue to play ball.”

Yet Hester cannot control how many opportunities he receives in the return game. His scoring ability has led some teams to punt the ball out of bounds rather than challenge the Pro Bowl returner.

In addition to making other tough decisions in his coaching debut, Colts coach Chuck Pagano must determine how to approach Hester.

“You’d like to say we don’t have to punt, but I’m afraid that’s probably not going to happen,” Pagano said. “We’re going to have to kick off to the guy. We’re going to have to punt to the guy.

“He’s arguably one of the best, if not the best, in the history of the game at returning kicks. We’ve just got to do a great job of containing him and trying to keep him corralled and make sure he doesn’t get loose for a big play.

“If we don’t have to kick to him, certainly we’ll try not to.”

Yet coaches have preached caution before and allowed Hester to beat them anyway. Hester returned three kicks for touchdowns in 2011, including a 98-yard kickoff return against Minnesota and punt returns of 69 yards and 82 yards against Carolina and Detroit.

Bears special teams coach Dave Toub has stopped trying to predict how teams will handle Hester in the kick return game.

“You really don’t know,” Toub said. “We’ve seen so many different things. It never surprises me, things that we get. When you think a team is going to kick away, they kick right to him.”

That would be fine by Hester.

“The more balls I get, the more opportunities I get to showcase my talents,” Hester said. “I’m all for it.”

Bears bits: Running back Lorenzo Booker missed practice because of a head injury and is listed as questionable to play against the Colts. … Four Bears players are listed as probable: Brian Urlacher (knee), Adam Podlesh (hip), Chris Conte (shoulder) and Earl Bennett (hand).

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