Zach Miller has not caught a pass in a regular season game since October 2011, when he had a 14-yard touchdown catch for the Jaguars.
Injuries have kept Miller from picking up where he left off in 2010 with Jacksonville, when he played in 15 games with five starts and had 20 catches for 216 yards. Now, the 2009 sixth-round draft pick's goal is to stay healthy and win a four-man battle at tight end to be Martellus Bennett’s backup.
The 6-foot-5, 236-pounder is more of a receiving threat, like Dante Rosario, as opposed to being a block-first tight end like Matthew Mulligan and Jeron Mastrud. With that in mind, Miller knows showing off his blocking will be key.
“That’s something I’m trying to work on every day. For me, that’s got to be technique wise, because I’m going to win with technique,” he said. “I’m going to win with hand placement and footwork and things like that.”
Bears coach Marc Trestman is in his second summer without a clear No. 2 tight end. Last year’s camp featured Kyle Adams, Gabe Miller, Leonard Pope and Fendi Onobun, and it was a trade for Rosario before Week One that landed the team its eventual backup, but Rosario had only one catch, and he gave way to Eben Britton as an extra blocker.
“… When you’re looking at the other four guys, they really are very smart,” Trestman said. “They all have good, sufficient hands and are good route runners. At the point of attack, we’ve got a couple of guys who are legitimate guys who can go in there in be at-the-point-of-attack tight ends, a pass blocking tight end, so that helps us.”
Where Miller can set himself apart is his athleticism and knowledge of offense from his college position. The 29-year old was a quarterback at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he left as the school’s career leader in scoring, touchdowns and completion percentage.
“From the football side of it and the mental aspect of it, I see coverages a lot better," Miller said. "I feel super comfortable seeing rotation and things like that and fronts. I can I.D. defenses, which helps me running routes, or our combination blocks, and things like that. Having a quarterback background helps me on the mental aspect of football.”
Miller says the biggest difference in this camp with Chicago compared to his time in Jacksonville is where he is at with the tight end position.
“The thing in Jacksonville was the transition period for me going from quarterback to tight end,” he said. “I had to learn a whole new position, really a whole new game, seeing the field from a different angle. That was a huge learning curve at that point in time.
“Now, it’s really detailing out the position, there it was learning it, trying to get good at playing tight end, now it’s just detailing out and proving them that I’ve already [passed through] that learning curve.”
Rosario and Mulligan have gotten the most reps with the first-team offense thus far in camp, but Miller has made several nice catches up the seam. He’ll need to take advantage of his preseason opportunities to continue making an impression, and he’s looking forward to getting back on the field.
“It’s going to be great, getting back to playing football,” Miller said. “I’ve had some bad breaks with the injury thing, but I’m not focused on that. I’m out here just to get better.
“I feel like I belong, I feel like I can still play, I’ve just got to stay healthy.”