Oft-injured Bears tight end Miller ready to battle for roster spot
BOURBONNAIS -- Security in the NFL is fleeting, as Bears tight end Zach Miller can attest.
After battling through four injury-plagued years in which he played just four games, Miller finally stayed healthy in 2015 for the first time since 2010. That allowed him to post career-best numbers, including 34 catches, 439 yards, 12.9-yard average per catch and 5 touchdowns. That earned a bit of security -- a two-year $5.5 million contract, including $3 million guaranteed.
Last year, in the first year of his new deal, Miller was poised to far exceed his 2015 numbers. Through 10 games, he had 47 catches for 486 yards, both of which established personal bests.
Then disaster struck again.
Miller suffered a season-ending fracture of his right foot on Nov. 20. After the season, the Bears gave former Miami Dolphins tight end Dion Sims a whopping three-year, $18 million deal in free agency and drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round.
So much for security.
Now Miller is fighting for a roster spot. But don't bury him, because he could make like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant.
"You guys throw dirt on my grave, that's fine," the 32-year-old Miller said. "I'm getting up to play the next day, so that'll all sort itself out. I've been doing that for a long time. It's nothing new to me.
"It's business as usual. That's kind of how it goes. We'll have a really good (tight end) room; lot of talent among our group."
The rehabbing Miller missed the on-field portion of this year's off-season program, but he is practicing on a limited basis in camp. His survival could depend on his ability to get back to 100 percent by the end of the preseason.
Working in his favor is that coach John Fox and his staff know how productive Miller can be as a pass catcher when he's healthy.
"We hold him in high regard," Fox said. "In recent history, (he's) been pretty productive. He was having a good season (last year). We'll keep our fingers crossed, and we'll be smart with him. None of us want to see him get injured, and we're going to do everything we can to prevent it."
If anyone knows how to rehab an injury, it's Miller, who entered the league as a sixth-round (180th overall) draft pick in 2009 of the Jacksonville Jaguars after playing quarterback at Nebraska-Omaha. After two healthy seasons, Miller went more than 1,000 days without playing in a game because of a variety of injuries. They included, in order, knee, shoulder, shoulder, calf and finally a left foot injury that kept him out the entire 2014 season.
"It's the same as always," Miller said of his most recent rehab. "Get through it. Grind through it. Do what's necessary. There's a lot of things you've got to do to. There's little stuff; boring things you need to get done step-by-step to get back and get ready to grind through that rehab process itself and back into football.
"But I've done it. I know how to get through it, and I'm doing that right now."
Other players at Miller's age might have considered tapping out after yet another injury. But, if the 6-foot-5, 243-pound Miller even has a breaking point, he hasn't reached it yet.
"I love playing football," he said. "And I understand … freak things happen, man. I've done everything I could do injury-prevention wise. There's nothing I could do to stop my foot from getting crushed.
"It was disappointing, but I also know that I can grind through that because I've done it before. I still feel I can play at a high level. Now it's just time to go out and show it."
• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.
Is it Miller time?Bears tight end Zach Miller (6-foot-5, 243 pounds) has never played a full 16-game NFL season. He will have some competition in camp this year with veteran Dion Sims (6-4, 271) and second-round draft pick Adam Shaheen (6-7, 277).
Miller's career totals2016 (Bears): 10 games, 47 catches, 486 yards, 4 TDs
2015 (Bears): 15 games, 34 cathces, 439 yards, 5 TDs
2009-11 (Jax): 33 games, 45 catches, 470 yards, 4 TDs
Total: 58 games, 126 catches, 1,395 yards, 13 TDs
Sims' career stats2013-16 (Miami): 56 games, 74 catches, 699 yards, 8 TDs
Shaheen's college stats2014-16 (Ashland): 31 games, 129 catches, 1,755 yards, 26 TDs
Source: pro-football-reference.com / Ashland University