By Cedric Williams

The Atlanta Falcons announced late Friday afternoon that they have activated wide receiver/kick return man Devin Hester from injured reserve and that he will make his 2015 season debut Sunday afternoon, when the Falcons head south for a showdown against the NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Hester, who missed Atlanta’s first 11 games this season after tearing ligaments in his right big toe, has been out since the preseason and was in danger of missing the entire season. But the 10-year veteran out of the University of Miami saw his injury improve enough over the last couple of weeks that the Falcons felt they could use him in live game action without any danger of making the injury worse.

“He had a great week,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said following Friday’s team practice at Flowery Branch. “You could (see) how hard he worked to push (to come back). He had a great week.”

To make room for Hester on the roster, Atlanta placed wide receiver Leonard Hankerson on injured reserve, effectively ending the fifth-year player’s season due to a lingering hamstring injury. Hankerson will finish the year—which could be his last with the Falcons—with 26 catches for 327 yards and three touchdowns.

Hester will likely step right into Hankerson’s role as Atlanta’s No. 3 receiver. But his biggest contribution might come in the kick return game, where Hester ranks as one of the best return men in the history of the game. He already holds the NFL record for most combined return touchdowns (20) in league history, and the record for most punt return touchdowns (14) ever.

Last season, Hester played in all 16 games and caught 38 passes for 504 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the NFL average yards per punt return (13.3 yards per return) and in combined kickoff and punt return yards (1,368).

“We’re going to let it rip this week and see how we feel in practice,” Hester said earlier this week. “(Hopefully) we’ll get a thumbs up for the game time.”

Atlanta will also get back its No. 1 rushing threat, as second-year back Devonta Freeman will make his return on Sunday as well, after sitting out last week’s game due to a concussion he suffered in Atlanta’s game two weeks ago against Indianapolis.

For Tampa Bay, three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game with a hand injury. McCoy did practice with the Buccaneers on Friday, after not practicing at all the rest of the week.

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McCoy was listed as limited for Friday’s workout.

“Limited can mean an awful lot of things,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith told the Tampa-area media on Friday. “It wasn’t a full-speed practice, so he could be limited and do very little. He did very little.”

Atlanta Falcons Injury Report
Probable:
OG Chris Chester (shoulder)
LB Justin Durant (ankle)
RB Devonta Freeman (concussion)
WR/KR Devin Hester (toe)
LB Brooks Reed (knee)
NT Paul Soliai (calf)
LB Nate Stupar (neck)

Out:
PK Matt Bryant (quad)
TE Tony Moeaki (hamstring)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Injury Report
Probable:
WR Vincent Jackson (knee)
CB Mike Jenkins (quad)
S Keith Tandy (concussion)

Questionable:
OT Gosder Cherilus (knee)
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder)
TE Luke Stocker (back)

Doubtful:
LB Bruce Carter (concussion)
DT Gerald McCoy (hand)

Out:
DE George Johnson (calf)
DE Jacquies Smith (hamstring)

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Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a full-time reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the NFL, as well as college and high school sports for the St. Louis American, Patch.com, and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at cedricwilliams510@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.