Especially because they're facing a massive and athletic defensive front on the road against the Panthers Sunday, the Bears were in need of dependable offensive line insurance.
So they turned to a familiar face.
13-year veteran offensive tackle Fred Miller signed a one-year contract Wednesday for $781,000, the prorated portion of the veteran minimum, including a $40,000 signing bonus.
To clear room on the 53-man roster, the Bears waived rookie offensive tackle Kirk Barton, a seventh-round draft pick (247th overall) out of Ohio State who was the only backup last week behind starters John St. Clair and John Tait.
"To get another veteran offensive lineman into the mix is good," head coach Lovie Smith said. "It's an easy transition for him as far as knowing what we do."
The 6-7, 315-pound Miller played in 186 NFL games with 164 starts, including 46 with the Bears over the previous three seasons before he was waived in the offseason. His re-signing underscores the Bears' lack of depth at the offensive tackle spot. First-round pick Chris Williams, a projected starter at left tackle on draft day, is not expected back on the field until at least midseason after undergoing back surgery in early August for a herniated disc.
The Bears offensive line played well in their Week 1 upset of the Colts but they were dangerously thin at the position, especially considering that St. Clair is 31 and Tait is 33. Tait was limited during Wednesday's practice but is expected to start Sunday.
Miller remained in the Chicago area after he was let go but has not played any football, although he worked out for the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay and also had interest from the Baltimore Ravens. He might be a couple weeks away from being in football shape and the Bears hope he doesn't have to play against the Panthers, but he won't have to struggle with the mental part of learning the Bears' offense.
Miller chose the Bears because of his familiarity with the personnel and to avoid uprooting his family. He had been helping coach his sons Grant and Evan in Pop Warner football as he weighed his offers to return to the playing field.
"You miss it to an extent," Miller said. "I had a lot of time to spend with my family, with my kids and coach their football teams and things of that nature. I'm going to miss that, and that was really a tough decision for me. I thought about it until the last minute. I was like, ‘Do I really want to come back out and play and miss my kids growing up and playing football? Or do I want to come out and play?' I figured I can be a little selfish one more year, and then I have the rest of my life to go out and spend time with them."
Although the Bears and Miller parted ways Feb. 18, they remained on good terms.
"No animosity at all," Miller said. "I know this is a business. They've got to do what they think is best for the team and I have to do things that I think are best for me, and you just kind of leave it at that. When I was waived, Coach Smith gave me a call. I said, 'I have all the respect for you, and I totally understand. I know this is football and that's a part of it and I wish you guys the best of luck,' and we parted ways."
Now they're back together, but it may take some time before Miller is comfortable playing in a game.
"I haven't really done a whole lot football-wise and don't know what type of football shape I'm in," he said, "so we're just going to take it day by day and see how it goes."
Miller struggled last season along with the entire offensive line, but he says he's much healthier now after undergoing ankle surgery in the offseason.
"I was probably playing at about 40 or 50 percent," he said. "Once I had my surgery, taking out the bone spurs and the cartilage that was floating around, it's back to 90 percent. It's never going to be at 100 percent anymore, but right now it feels pretty good."
Miller said he doesn't regret playing with the injury, even though his performance was diminished.
"As a football player, you don't want to stop playing," he said. "I wanted to play no matter what, and if I needed to take [time] off then I would do that. But until then, I would play. That's just my mentality. That's how I play, so I played."
News & Notes
"We go into the game trying to run the football," Smith said. "We have to be able to establish the run for us to be successful. We were able to do that. The offensive line did a super job of blocking, giving our running backs, especially Matt Forte, an opportunity to do his thing."
The Bears' rushed for 47 more yards vs. the Colts than they did against any of their 16 opponents last season and they only ran more than 34 times in a game once in 2007, when they were last in the NFL with a 3.1-yard average and 30th in total rushing yards.
"We really ran the football at them," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "Any time we do that, control the clock and make key plays in the passing game, we're going to be right there." …
Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in the 29-13 upset of the Colts.
Ogunleye had three tackles for loss, including one for a safety and another on a fourth-and-one play that helped set up the Bears' clinching touchdown. He also had three other tackles and a quarterback hurry.
"What I want to do is continue what I did last year," said Ogunleye, who led the Bears' linemen with 70 tackles last season and had a team-best nine sacks, six forced fumbles and three recovered fumbles. "Every game, I want to try to make a big play. It's the same recipe I had last year." …
Former Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who is now back with the Panthers after being waived by the Bears in the offseason, was quoted in Sports Illustrated during the preseason as saying "Chicago is where wide receivers go to die."
With the Bears traveling to Carolina this weekend to renew acquaintances with Muhammad, he was asked about the quote and typically spun it to absolve himself of all blame while at the same time tooting his own horn.
"I wasn't the originator of that comment," Muhammad said. "It actually was made when I signed in Chicago. Someone questioned why I went to Chicago because of that comment. I tried to discredit it as much as I could when I was in Chicago. I gave it all I could. That's my nature. I'm going to play as hard as I can and do the best I can.
"Obviously my career [with the Bears] wasn't as good as it was the nine years I was [in Carolina], and then some other players who were there left and had better careers when they left than when they played there. That's what we talked about, me and Peter King. That comment became the headline of the article. So be it."
Orton, who was probably thrown under the bus by Muhammad as much as anyone, was asked his reaction when he first heard the quote.
"I didn't have one," Orton said.
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