Atlanta Falcons returner extraordinaire Devin Hester is finally back on the practice field. But don't look for #17 on the playing field this Sunday. Don't look next Sunday either. Because, at best, he will make his long-awaited return against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, December 6th. That's still almost three weeks away. Sad.
Hester's progress over those three weeks will obviously inform how the coaching staff reintegrates him. In his absence, Nick Williams has emerged as Mr. Reliable. Justin Hardy has debuted, performing adequately. Then there's Eric Weems, who has shown that he's more than a gunner. If both Hester and Leonard Hankerson are healthy in a week or two, something will have to give, unless the Falcons intend to carry 7 receivers.
There's only a few possibilities. One possibility is sending Williams to the practice squad. That's risky, because it gives every NFL team a chance to add him to their active rosters. Another possibility is the Falcons parting ways with Weems. I'd call that highly unlikely, if only because of his special teams acumen. (In fact, one could make an argument that he doesn't really count as a wide receiver.) The last possibility is the Falcons letting Hardy go inactive again. The final possibility is the most likely. Hardy can continue to develop and everyone benefits.
No matter how the Falcons reintegrate Hester, fans should temper their expectations. Hester is coming off a pretty serious injury. He may take a while to get back up to speed.