BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The NFL and NFLPA are billing the modified Pro Bowl as “the ultimate fan-friendly celebration of the game” but Devin Hester says he never has seen a football game begin without a kickoff.
Kickoffs have been removed from the league’s all-star game and captains now will select the teams after players from both conferences are voted into the event as usual. There no longer will be a spot for return specialists as an extra defensive back for each team will replace them.
That means Hester, a three-time Pro Bowl performer and the NFL record holder for combined career kick return touchdowns, will not be getting an expenses-paid trip to Hawaii after the season no matter how well he does in his new role for the Bears as strictly a returner.
“That was one of my goals for this season,” Hester said. “I won’t make the Pro Bowl. They can’t do that.”
While kickoffs have been removed (the team with the ball will begin on its own 25-yard line), there still will be kickers for field goals and extra points. Punters also will be in the game but the teams — which now will be determined via a draft of the players voted into the game — will have to use a player voted in at a skill position to field punts. Typically, there are not many punts in the Pro Bowl.
“If you are taking the returner out of the Pro Bowl, you’re taking two positions out.” Hester said. “That will suck for me. They are trying to change up the whole game of football and they’re messing with people’s jobs and lives.”
Moving parts: The Bears got to their third and fourth options at left tackle as Jermon Bushrod (right calf) remained in a walking boot and his replacement Jonathan Scott was on the sideline with ice on his right knee. Cory Brandon got the first looks with the starters but veteran Eben Britton, primarily a guard and right tackle in his career, spent the most time there.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said he’s not concerned right now because the injuries are believed to be minor. The team classifies Bushrod as “day-to-day.” While Scott was awaiting results of an MRI, he’s confident there is no serious issue. The spin right now is the injuries are providing others with reps to be evaluated.
“Our goal is to find the best five and when we find the best five it will be obvious,” Kromer said. “Whether we put them at left guard, right guard, whoever they are, we’ll find them and we don’t control when that will happen. It’ll just happen.”
Extra points: Jay Cutler was particularly sharp in the red zone with completions for scores to Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett, all big targets. He threw the ball high in each case to allow his receivers to make plays. He also made a perfect throw to a streaking Earl Bennett down the sideline late in practice. … Cutler said last week everyone had not bought in to coach Marc Trestman’s program. Much can change in a week, apparently. “Everyone has bought in,” Cutler said. “So we’re good now. One-hundred percent.” … Trestman was fired up when guard James Brown committed a pre-snap penalty. He has been harping on the players about mental errors. … Second-team nickel cornerback Isaiah Frey made a nice pass breakup of a throw for Devin Aromashodu. … Cornerback Tim Jennings was excused for personal reasons and Zack Bowman took his place with the ones. … Tight end Fendi Onobun had a bad drop in third-down drills. … Defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson was sidelined with ice on his right knee.