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Falcons' Devin Hester prepared to sit out until turf toe heals
Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver/return specialist Devin Hester, who is battling turf toe on his right foot, is prepared to sit out Monday's season opener against Philadelphia and beyond until he becomes fully healthy.
Hester did not suit up for the three practices this week and went through light drills on a side field during Friday's session. He first suffered the injury early in training camp, then aggravated it running a route during the third preseason game at Miami.
"It slowly got a little worse," Hester said.
Hester has his right big toe buddy-taped to his second toe. Turf toe typically requires 2 to 4 weeks of recovery, which is a timetable he realizes is a possibility.
Turf toe is keeping Devin Hester out of practice and could keep him out of Monday's game. Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
"That's my biggest fear: If I come back too early and it doesn't get better, that normally makes it worse," Hester said. "That's my only concern. With turf toes, they just need time to heal. I think this is what I did with this one. I came back on it too early.
"I feel like [missing] one or two games is better than four or five games."
Hester, the NFL's all-time leader with 20 return scores, made the Pro Bowl in his first year with the Falcons last season. The 32-year-old veteran showed he still has dynamic return ability with a 59-yard punt return against the New York Jets in the second preseason game.
However, turf toe significantly alters Hester's ability to plant and cut, which is such a big part of his game. It also throws off Hester's balance.
The Falcons obviously prepared for life without Hester by keeping Nick Williams on the roster as the seventh receiver. Williams is capable of returns, as is rookie Justin Hardy and veteran Eric Weems.
Weems, rookie Terron Ward, and starting cornerback Robert Alford fielded kickoffs during Friday's practice and Weems and Williams fielded punts. Weems is likely to be in the mix because he has experience as a return man. And Hardy showed his ability during the preseason with a 70-yard punt return against the Baltimore Ravens.
“He's a great catcher," Hester said of Hardy. “He's good at fielding the ball. Back there, it's all about repetition. When he gets a couple more reps up under his belt from the college to the NFL, he should be good."
While Hester sat out Friday's practice, left tackle Jake Matthews (back), wide receiver Roddy White (elbow), and running back Devonta Freeman (hamstring) all had full participation, as did linebacker Joplo Bartu (quad) and safety Robenson Therezie (groin).
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