Anthony Miller is now in the Mitch Trubisky/Matt Nagy circle of trust, and that could allow the supremely talented receiver's humbling second year in the NFL to come full circle Sunday when the Bears' season once again is on the line at Lambeau Field against the division-leading rival Packers.
"He's earned that trust and he's been busting his tail to get on the same page with me. He's done a tremendous job for this offense, especially stepping up [with] some of the other guys being out," Trubisky said Wednesday.
It didn't appear on the surface initially that Miller's process of endearment would take so long.
After the Bears traded up in Round 2 to select the Memphis product last year, Miller led them with 7 receiving touchdowns despite a chronically recurring shoulder dislocation and torn labrum that required offseason surgery. All things considered, it was a successful first foray as a pro, albeit with some adjustments needed in learning to become a pro.
Then came an offseason of minimal on-field activity while rehabbing the shoulder, preceding an ankle injury late in his second camp in Bourbonnais, causing Miller to fall behind. His inconsistent attention to detail and practice habits didn't help. Miller basically was an afterthought in Game One of Year 2, the crushing 10-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field, when he played only 15 snaps, the fewest of his young career, failing to catch a pass.
It was an outing he'd just as soon forget, admitting Tuesday he remembered noting about that evening.
The reduced playtime and minimal involvement stemming from his lack of dependability continued for Miller basically until the midpoint of this season. Sure, he flashed in London against the Raiders with Taylor Gabriel inactive, and the following week vs. the Saints, when Gabriel was still limited, but it consistently felt like he'd take one step forward, only to follow it with two steps back.
Back-to-back penalties marred his monster drive at Tottenham Hotspur, and the first lost fumble of his career came in the next game. Even in Week 10, his most involved game of the season at that point, came with an asterisk — Miller overrunning a sideline route by two yards and drawing offensive pass interference as Mitch Trubisky was intercepted on the botched play.
"I’ve always been humbled. But that’s any playmaker," Miller said. "He’s going to want to be on the field, be involved, be able to make plays. That was just me. I’m glad I’m receiving the opportunities I’m getting now.
And he's undoubtedly maximized those opportunities, authoring the best three-game stretch of his career — 18 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown — all resulting in victories, with the offensive output increasing each week. He and Trubisky put the unit on their backs late in Detroit before Miller finally found the end zone for the first time last week to punctuate the Bears' best performance of the season.
"We all knew about Anthony’s potential. We all sat here in Week 1 trying to figure out why he wasn’t on the field a lot," WR coach Mike Furrey said. "It’s more of the mental part, it was more of the maturity part than it was the ability. ... You can’t just go out there and play playground on Sunday or you won’t play. And in this league there’s a lot of people out there on the streets that can play football, and if he’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing, then he can be one of those guys down the road.
"I think what he’s done over the last 6-7 weeks, the growth he’s had maturity-wise, the way he’s handled himself when he comes in and his preparation, you’re starting to see what we were all hoping, as well as what we all kind of knew. I don’t think he’s done. I think he still has a lot more room to grow."
Injuries: The Bears welcomed Prince Amukamara (ankle) back the practice Wednesday after he missed Week 14, but fellow starters Taylor Gabriel and Ben Braunecker (concussions), Bobby Massie (ankle) and Danny Trevathan (elbow) remained sidelined, in addition to Roy Robertson-Harris (ankle) and Javon Wims (knee).
Pro Bowl DE Akiem Hicks, who's been on IR since Week 7 with a dislocated left elbow, remains on track to play Sunday.