The tension between the Chicago Bears and Martellus Bennett has been well documented. The contentious nature of the fractured relationship has led the Bears to seek out a trade partner for Bennett.
For that reason, the Bears made sure to have a backup plan: Zach Miller, who was signed to a two-year, $6 million contract yesterday.
Miller set career highs last season with 34 catches for 439 yards and a team-leading 5 touchdown receptions. He visited the L.A. Rams earlier this week but ultimately chose to return to Chicago.
"For me, this is a comfortable place. Personally, for me and my family, this is where we wanted to be. We’ve been here before," Miller said today. "And then business-decision-wise, you look at it and the type of franchise that the Chicago Bears are, the organization, the way that it’s ran now, the way [GM] Ryan [Pace] is moving forward with things and Coach Fox’s vision, it’s just something that I really want to be a part of. I think the arrow is pointing up and I wanted to be here."
Two years ago, the idea of Miller finally cashing in on a multi-million-dollar contract seemed implausible. A sixth-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2008, Miller was felled by injury four games into the 2010 campaign. For the next three years, he didn't play a single snap in the NFL due to multiple injuries.
Yet he was healthy for 15 games last season and made the most of his opportunity, which resulted in his big contract.
"I was just thankful. It’s a long journey. A really good one. There’s been ups and downs," said Miller. "I'm just real thankful for the opportunity to continue my career here. It started a couple years ago with the old regime and Phil [Emery], and for Ryan to carry that on and give me another opportunity after a serious injury, and then just working on a daily basis to continue to grind and really get that opportunity, it just worked out well, and I’m thankful for how the whole thing played out."
If the Bears do trade Bennett, Miller will fill the club's No. 1 tight end role, something he's been preparing for his entire football career.
"I feel like, if you look at my career and my history as an athlete and as a quarterback, I’m very comfortable being a leader," said Miller, who was a passer throughout his high school and college career. "It’s one of the natural things that I’ve felt. I’ve done well throughout my college career. I didn’t have the opportunity to really step in and be a leader yet throughout my professional career but it’s growing. However things play out with Marty is how they play out. I’m really to fill whatever role is needed."
In that top role, he'll be expected to take on a large share of the blocking duties, something with which Miller has little experience.
"It’s a weird thing for me, because obviously playing quarterback my entire life and making this transition at the highest level into the NFL. I wasn’t asked to do it a lot my first two, three years, so I never really got to work on it, practice it," Miller said. "It’s different when you’re doing it in practice and working on the fundamentals, to actually get reps in the game. And then obviously the couple years where I didn’t get to work on football at all, being hurt.
"[Bears tight ends coach] Frank [Smith] just really kinda dialed it up for me, where he taught me some different techniques and different fundamentals, made me comfortable with those. And then it was the fact of getting that feeling of doing it. Once you feel it, you do it, you get the muscle memory and you can build on it. That’s how I just improved. And still, I’m not a bone-crushing blocker. That’s not who I am. But I’m going to continue to work on it every single day and complete my game."
Miller doesn't see his role changing in the offense under new coordinator Dowell Loggains.
"I don’t know if it’ll be much different. Maybe we’ll move around a little bit. I moved all over the field, so I’m sure it’ll probably be a little bit similar. I talked to Dowell a couple times throughout the process. I'm excited about his vision, excited about what I can bring. He’s out of town now, so when he gets back, I’m sure we’ll dial some things in and get on the same page."
Miller has developed chemistry with Jay Cutler over the last two seasons, which he said played a large role in his decision to return to the Bears.
"Family-wise was No. 1. My wife and kids being comfortable. Jay was No. 2, to be honest with you," he said. "To be able play football with a guy like that at that position, elite arm, elite mental status that can make decisions, that was one of the biggest reasons, along with many others, but that was up there."