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updated: 8/12/2014 9:09 PM

Bears' Miller happy to find he still belongs

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  • Video: Bears coach on TE Zach Miller

  • Bears tight end Zach Miller hauls in a Jordan Palmer pass for one of his 2 touchdowns in Friday's 34-28 victory in the preseason opener.

      Bears tight end Zach Miller hauls in a Jordan Palmer pass for one of his 2 touchdowns in Friday's 34-28 victory in the preseason opener.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

BOURBONNAIS -- Tight end Zach Miller's 2-touchdown performance in the Bears' preseason opener Friday confirmed to a lot of people, including himself, that he still has what it takes to play in the NFL.

"It's been awhile," said Miller who didn't play at all last season, spent 2012 on injured reserve and missed the last 12 games in 2011.

"I battled through some injuries. I didn't know how I'd still react or how I'd do when the game was rolling and the lights came on."

Turned out the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Miller was a star performer, with 6 catches for 68 yards, including the TDs of 10 and 12 yards.

"It was just fun to get out there, play a different opponent and put it on tape that I still got it a little bit," he said. "It was important."

Miller was picked by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the sixth round of the 2009 draft as a tight end, even though he spent four seasons at Nebraska-Omaha as a quarterback, where he rushed for 3,122 yards and 50 touchdowns.

The first time he played tight end was three months before he was drafted, in a Division-II postseason all-star game.

But Miller adapted quickly enough to catch 33 passes in his second season before calf, chest and knee injuries derailed his career.

"Zach has always been a good player," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "But he's had injury problems in the past, so he never got to show it on the field. Now he's getting the opportunity to show it, and we're glad we have him while that's happening."

All of last season, Miller could only visualize the kind of success he enjoyed against the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday or the impressive performances he has put on at practice. He had a pair of TD catches in the red-zone portion of Tuesday's final training-camp practice.

The only thing he could do last season was rehab injuries and work out. Despite the long layoff, Miller said he didn't consider not coming back.

"I was determined to keep on rolling," he said. "I was staying in shape, waiting for opportunity."

He got the opportunity he was hoping for from the Bears, who impressed him while he was impressing them during a workout before he was signed on Dec. 30.

From coach Marc Trestman to general manager Phil Emery to tight ends coach Andy Bischoff, Miller felt the right vibe at Halas Hall.

"It was just the atmosphere as far as the whole franchise," Miller said. "It was an amazing welcome, the family feeling from the top down just really felt like a good place for me.

"Situationally, I didn't even really look at the group of guys (at tight end). It was just the opportunity to come here. It just felt like the right place."

Miller will be looking to build on the base he established last week when the Bears host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday (7 p.m., ABC) at Soldier Field. He won't allow himself the luxury of complacency just because of an encouraging couple of weeks.

"I don't want to go there yet," he said. "I've still got a lot of work to do. That was only one game in the preseason. I'm back, nose to the grindstone. Back to work and keep on rolling."

With his build, Miller and the Bears know he will never be a road grader as an in-line blocker, but he provides another effective weapon in the passing game. Trestman has been impressed so far, but he's not guaranteeing any roster spots yet.

"He's done a very good job in his route running," the Bears coach said. "He's consistently catching the football. He's making an impact, certainly. (But) we're not going to anoint him at this point in time.

"We want to get him through training camp healthy and allow him hopefully to perform throughout the preseason as he's been doing. And then we'll see where we are at the end of the day.

"But he's got a great skill set for running routes and catching the football. We're happy where he is right now."

And Miller's just happy to be back in the game.

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.

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