When Devin Hester was released by the Atlanta Falcons in late July, his first priority was getting healthy. Despite missing all but five games last year and having surgery on his toe in January, he still felt held back by the injury.
Once he started making physical improvements in the days ahead, his focus turned to finding a team where he could flourish again.
"Special teams was No. 1 for me. I'm a special teams guy," Hester said. "I wanted to go to a special teams unit that was pretty much one of the most dominant teams in the league. I was finding the Ravens were in the top five the past five years or something. They were ranked No. 1 last year."
Hester, the 33-year-old who signed a 1-year deal with the Ravens on Sunday, participated in his first practice today, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the veteran will return kicks and punts for the team Sunday when it opens the regular season against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium.
In studying the Ravens as a potential fit, Hester realized they run the same return schemes as he did with the Chicago Bears under heralded special teams coach Dave Toub. In eight seasons with the Bears, Hester was named to the Pro Bowl team three times and had 19 return touchdowns. He added another punt return touchdown for the Falcons in 2014 and his 20 total return scores are an NFL record.
"A returner, I feel, is all about experience. Everybody out here can run fast, can make guys miss," Hester said. "I feel when you're back there, you have to be able to manage the game, you have to make the right decisions, pick up small instincts just by repetition. I put a lot of time in it from the returner's standpoint, and I feel like I can come here right away and contribute."
Hester said the Ravens called his agent to express interest in him the first week after his release from the Falcons. As he got healthier, the Ravens' need for a returner became greater with other internal options either getting hurt, (Kaelin Clay and Michael Campanaro) or struggling (Keenan Reynolds).
"Not a day goes by where I don't feel like I have to improve," Hester said. "Even the greatest think that. Even Michael Jordan, if you ever pay attention to him, he always feels like he can get better. I always kind of look up to those types of guys and try to be like those types of guys. Deep down inside, I still feel like I have lot more to prove."