Now that the NFL Draft is in the rear-view mirror, Head Coach Matt Nagy has even more tools at his disposal to continue to form an electric offense. The Bears are now equipped with Tarik Cohen, David Montgomery, Mike Davis, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Riley Ridley, Javon Wims, Cordarrelle Patterson and Trey Burton to go alongside a developing Mitchell Trubisky.
With all of these new offensive weapons and electric scheming possibilities, an interesting question came to mind. What would’ve happened if Matt Nagy had coached Devin Hester?
If for one season the Bears could’ve replaced Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice, Aaron Kromer or even Marc Trestman with Matt Nagy, how different would the Devin Hester story have gone in Chicago?
This all comes to mind as experts continue to weigh in on what the Bears and Nagy will be able to do, now with a tremendous amount of versatile pieces to create a potentially explosive offense. Not a single player is slotted into one position and they can be a threat from many different areas of the field.
Bears fans, take a look at Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson. Like Hester, both players possess tremendous vision on the field. They are runners and returners first, receivers second. Hester possessed some of the most dynamic vision on the field that resulted in 14 punt returns for touchdowns and 5 touchdowns on kickoffs in addition to his magical Super Bowl XLI return. However, the Bears tried to make Hester into something he wasn’t, a #1 receiver, something that didn’t take advantage of his best skillset, and the results showed.
Over his entire NFL career, he only totaled 16 receiving touchdowns and as the Bears continued to try to build him into a receiver, their unabated conviction actually hurt his development and the team’s development of receivers before, during and after the acquisition of Jay Cutler.
When fans and writers watched the Bears last season, it was the creativity and scheming to players’ strengths that impressed the football world. Instead of trying to make Tarik Cohen fit into a system, they built a system around Cohen, Trubisky and others to where they could thrive and succeed. Cohen could be used in the backfield, as a decoy, as a receiver, in the wild cat and of course primarily used in the screen-style pass as an extension of the running game.
The primary usage of Cohen in the passing version of the running game focuses in on his best skillset, his vision. Trubisky needed to get the ball in Cohen’s hands as quickly as possible, and then could watch him work his magic as he dissected a defense. The same scheme will probably be used for Cordarrelle Patterson. While Patterson can play receiver, he is best known for his return ability based on his vision skills to pick apart a defense and score. Even he knows his best skill set, as he wants to connect with Hester as he begins his career with the Bears.
Cohen finished 2018 with 444 rushing yards on the ground and 3 rushing touchdowns to go along with 725 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns. For most running backs a 1,000-yard season is a benchmark, but Cohen recorded his 1,000-yard season as a dual-threat player both in the running and passing game. Combined, Cohen had half (8) as many touchdowns in one season as Hester had as a receiver in his entire career.
Nagy’s ability to utilize Cohen and build an offense to his strengths should excite fans about what they can expect with even more tools, and serve as a frustrating reminder of what could’ve been if he had gotten the chance to coach one of the most exciting players in NFL history, Devin Hester.
Hester could’ve been that multi-threat player that used his skills in vision, finding holes in a defense and running ability to read, react and make a big play. Turning a lifelong cornerback and returner into an X’s and O’s and route-running receiver is like teaching an entirely new language. The Bears always wanted to find a bigger role for Hester in the offense, and a ‘Cohen-style’ position would have been perfect. The Bears had the right dynamic player, but the wrong coaches to get the most out of him.
The question still looms of whether Devin Hester should be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And if he became that unstoppable offensive threat like they are preparing Cohen to become, there would be no debate, he would be in. Hester would have been able to build upon his returning skillset by applying it in the run and screen game instead of having to abandon his instincts and worry about route-running specifics.
While the Bears cannot go back in time, they have to learn from their mistakes. What they were unable to achieve with Devin Hester should serve as a motivator for what they can do with players like Cohen, Patterson, Montgomery and more. Matt Nagy has been given almost every tool to succeed in Chicago which should excite Bears fans as the team looks to secure their second straight NFC North title.
But as always, until the Bears win another Super Bowl, the ‘what if’ game will continue to be played. If only an offensive guru like Matt Nagy got the opportunity to coach the Devin Hester, the team’s last appearance in the Big Game would probably not have been 14 years ago. With a stellar defense and a proper offense, they may have gotten back there one more time, letting a little more ‘ridiculousness’ take center stage in Chicago.