Anthony Miller’s presence at practice Friday to kick off Bears training camp, much like during his rookie campaign, was unmistakable.
After an offseason spent recovering and rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder — which he dislocated as a rookie “probably five or six times” — Miller was the recipient of Mitch Trubisky’s first deep ball during the team’s scripted session.
“Everyone in here knows Anthony, they know how tough he is,” Matt Nagy said Friday following camp’s first practice, lasting approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes on a pleasant, mostly overcast day.
“He’s as competitive as most people I’ve ever met. So it doesn’t surprise me that he wants to play. And on top of that, when you do things the right way, and you handle those injuries the right way like we did, you use that to educate him going forward here, and he’s done a great job rehabbing it and getting it right. You can see it when he’s out here, just in his 10-10-10, he’s flying around. Mentally for him, that was the big thing in the offseason.”
Despite what he called a “tough” rookie season while battling the injury, Miller appeared in 16 games and led the Bears with seven receiving touchdowns, after they moved back into the second round a year ago to draft the Memphis product with the 51st overall selection. He dazzled at times with his route running but only totaled 33 catches for 423 yards, partially because of a number of missed connections with QB Mitch Trubisky.
“I just hope that [the fans] saw a lot of heart, a lot of willingness to do whatever I can to help the team and they know I’m a Bear through and through,” Miller said. “I’m going to continue to play that way.”
That’s music to the ears not only of fans but the Bears, whose WR corps has transformed seemingly overnight from one of the worst in the NFL two seasons ago to a group that has among the most upside.
Six weeks before drafting Miller last year, GM Ryan Pace signed Allen Robinson to be Chicago’s long-awaited No. 1 wideout and doubled up in free agency by adding blazing Taylor Gabriel. This offseason comes fellow veteran speed merchant Cordarrelle Patterson, fourth-round rookie Riley Ridley and highly touted college free agent Emanuel Hall.
Even with all their newfound weapons, the ideal scenario for the Bears would be if Miller becomes the No. 2 option and kicks inside to the slot in three-WR sets with Gabriel stretching the field vertically opposite Robinson. Miller's versatility, hands and run-after-catch ability appear top notch — and should only improve as he gets more opportunities.
Indeed, almost as impressive as producing through pain a year ago was the fact that five of Miller’s seven touchdowns came out of the slot, where he worked only sporadically in college. But it takes a certain type of toughness to roam between the tall trees over the middle, and Miller clearly has already checked that box.
“It was a big transition. I had to learn a lot,” said Miller, adding that he’s taken pride as a pro in expanding his game mentally so he can work anywhere on the field. “I had to get the feel of it. I’m playing within closed corridors between bigger guys. So I definitely had to get the feel of it.”
After an offseason he described as “all work and no play,” Miller has been in Bourbonnais since Monday rebuilding his chemistry with QB Mitch Trubisky. He expects that connection to be “on point” this season because they’re both so much further along in Year 2 of the offense. Though Miller couldn’t practice during the offseason program, he was logging mental reps behind the quarterbacks on the practice field — usually an off-limits area, Nagy said, but the coach appreciated his receiver’s eagerness.
Miller says he’s “thankful” not to have any pain in his shoulder and looks forward to being closer to his old self this season in a dynamic offense.
Basically, get your popcorn ready.
"We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of talent. We’re going to be flying all over the field. Be in for a show, man.
“... That was really just all heart — you can’t put a percentage on that,” Miller said of his rookie season. “I was definitely busted up. I wasn’t myself the entire season. You’ll get that this season.”
Defensive back Jonathon Mincy was held out of practice, while rookie WR Riley Ridley (hamstring) and LS Patrick Scales (personal issue) left early. Nagy said there's no specific timetable for S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who is on the physically unable to perform list after spraining his knee on one of the final reps in OTAs, but he didn't require surgery and Nagy thinks he's "close" to returning.