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Multiple ligament tears kept Devin Hester sidelined longer
Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It was a positive sign for the Atlanta Falcons to see Devin Hester back at practice this week after dealing with a toe injury.
Hester believed his return would happen a couple months ago.
The wide receiver/kick returner initially suffered the injury early in training camp, then aggravated it during the third preseason game at Miami. He figured he'd miss a couple games to start the season, but further examination revealed much more than just a stretching of the ligaments surrounding his right big toe.
Hester explained that he tore two ligaments in the area, which made the recovery process much longer and resulted in him being placed on injured reserve with designation to return without playing in a single game.
"It was a little more than just a regular turf toe," Hester said. "Two parts were torn a little bit. It just flared up. I tore a little piece on the outside and in the middle.
Surgery is possible in such a scenario, but the medical staff said it was not necessary in Hester's case.
"We did the MRI and everything and decided it wasn't something we needed surgery on," Hester said. "And we just went from there."
Hester continues to protect the big toe by buddy-taping it to his second toe and using an orthotic in his shoe. He said he feels about 85 percent after sitting out the mandatory six-week period before being eligible to return to practice. Hester can't return to game action until Week 13 at Tampa Bay.
Being able to cut like he wants to is the biggest obstacle he needs to overcome now.
"Right now, the short distance stuff I can do," Hester said. "I haven't really opened up and then tried to cut. I don't want to jump on it right now yet. The quickness in the first 5, 10 yards, I can cut as hard as I want to, so that's good. It's just the downfield and top-speed cutting, I don't want to push that."
Hester, who made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist last season -- his first year with the Falcons -- could provide an added boost upon his return, although replacement return man Eric Weems is coming off a 191-yard performance against San Francisco.
Hester wasn't certain about his role in Kyle Shanahan's offense at the outset, but Shanahan certainly could find a way to get the ball in the hands of someone as elusive as Hester.
"A big play here and there wouldn't hurt," Hester said. "I feel like I have the ability to do that. When I get back out there, we'll see what it's looking like. And I'll go from there."
Hester is fully confident about playing against Tampa Bay (Dec. 6). Remember, he set the NFL record with his 20th career touchdown return against his former coach, Lovie Smith, and the Buccaneers last season.
"I don't care who we play, I'm just ready to play," the Florida native said. "My family is within a two-hour drive from there. I know they've been waiting a while, so I'm going to have a big crowd there. I'm just anxious to get back on the field regardless of who we play."
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