Bears

Zach Miller's positive outlook after life-altering injury is something by which we all can be inspired

Zach Miller's positive outlook after life-altering injury is something by which we all can be inspired

Eight surgeries and more than six weeks later, Zach Miller made an emotional, inspirational return to Halas Hall on Monday. Miller’s most recent surgery was Friday, and he only started bending his left knee on Friday, too. 

The good news is the artery that was shredded when Miller awkwardly landed in the end zone of the Superdome Oct. 29 is “as strong if not stronger than it ever was,” Miller said. Miller didn’t wish to get into the structural specifics of his injury, but did say: “The main ligaments that normally are looked at and worried about are good.” 

But perhaps the best news about Miller’s injury — and there wasn’t much good news that came with it — is that his outlook has remained so positive and uplifting, both for those who’ve personally been with him and those who’ve interacted with him on social media. 

“I don’t think that all of the things that I’ve had gone on throughout my entire career, I don’t think there’s a part for me to sit back and think, ‘Why me?’” Miller said. “If anything I know that I’ll be better when this is done. This ain’t the end of my life. There’s a ton of things that I’ll still be able to do and really everything’s been conveyed to me is I’m going to be completely fine after we get through this. So now it’s just grind through this, use this for any amount of positivity you can and carry on because we’ve got a lot of life left to lead. Trying to have as much fun doing that as possible.”

That mentality was described as “impressive” by Bears coach John Fox, and that’s an apt way of putting it. Miller almost lost his leg in the hours after initially suffering his injury, after all. 

“That was very real,” Miller said Monday at Halas Hall. “A couple wrong turns away from actually happening. I had a ton of care, a lot of people helping me out throughout that entire process. But we were a couple minutes away from having that be real.”

Miller said he wasn’t initially told by doctors that amputation was a possibility, but he “just felt that” something more serious was going on. 

“I remember, before I got into the emergency surgery, the last thing I was telling the doctors was ‘Please, save my leg” because I knew that something wasn’t quite right just in the way my leg was feeling and the way it was filling up,” Miller said. “I knew we had issues. That was kind of in the back of my mind. I didn’t want that to happen. And I made sure to tell them that, hey, I don’t want that to happen as well.

“… The initial knee injury was just weird. I knew I had a significant injury. I didn’t know what it looked like. I knew it was severe. Then as time went on, I could just feel more pressure, a little more swelling, the leg starting to balloon up a little bit. I could just tell there was something going on that wasn’t really quite normal with a normal knee injury. So it made me worried. That was the initial thought for me. I started to panic a little bit. I just wanted to get things under control.”

Miller hasn’t thought much about what’s next for him football-wise, preferring to focus on the day-to-day progress he’s made since returning to Chicago (being able to get out of the house and come to Halas Hall on Monday represented progress, for example). But while Miller is 33 and a free agent after this season, he’s not willing to give up right now and call it a career. 

“I haven't really thought much of football from now on,” Miller said. “You know what I mean? I haven't got to that point. For me right now, it's just getting this right, getting healed up and when that point comes, make a decision. 

“Do I want to play football? What do you think? I've been a football player my whole life. I would love to play football. We'll cross that road when it's time.”

If Miller’s playing career indeed is over, though, he can say he ended it with a touchdown. That may not have been what replay officials decided was the case, but that bizarre ruling isn’t what will live on in his mind, or the minds of nearly everyone who saw that play. 

“That'll forever be a touchdown for me,” Miller said. 

Predicting the 2018 Bears: Turnaround can only come game by game by game

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USA TODAY

Predicting the 2018 Bears: Turnaround can only come game by game by game

With new coach Matt Nagy in place, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky starting Year 2 from the get-go, and a cadre of offensive upgrades, expectations are exponentially higher than they were through the decline and fall of the John Fox regime, which was intended to be a turnaround and bridge to a culture and performance change from the nadir under Marc Trestman.

But the reality is that the Bears could very well be among the most improved teams in the NFL and still finish last in the NFC North for the fifth straight year and under their third different head coach.

Improving on the 5-11 of 2017 will not be all that assured, either. Of their 16 games, six are against teams that reached last postseason. Two each of those are against the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings, and Aaron Rodgers missed nine games last year, something that isn’t likely to repeat, making the Packers their usual force – and the Bears couldn’t beat Green Bay even with Brett Hundley in for Rodgers.

The Packers get Rodgers back. The Lions got a new coach. The Vikings got a new quarterback. If you stand still, you’re slipping backwards.

The schedule formula has given the Bears an unintended standard for gauging whether they have gained or lost ground on the league. Half of the games on the 2018 schedule are against teams played by the Bears in 2017 – Detroit (2), Green Bay (2), Minnesota (2), San Francisco and Tampa Bay – and the Bears were 0-8 in those games last season. If Nagy and Pace don’t improve on that…

With game times after Week 4 subject to flex scheduling:

Week 1: at Green Bay (7-9) Sunday, Sept. 9, 7:20 p.m.

The only two times the Bears have beaten the Packers since 2010 have been in Green Bay but Aaron Rodgers has become to the Bears of the last decade what Brett Favre was to the years before Lovie Smith.

Moon’s call: L

Week 2: Seattle Seahawks (9-7) Monday, Sept. 17, 7:15 p.m.

The monster team that came within a TD of reaching three consecutive Super Bowls has let go of defining members (Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman) and has injury issues hanging over others. A team at a fork in its road.

Moon’s call: W

Week 3: at Arizona Cardinals (8-8) Sunday, Sept. 23, 3:25 p.m.

Bruce Arians retired after averaging nearly 10 wins over five AZ seasons. Steve Wilks is a defensive coach and becomes the latest to try winning with QB Sam Bradford, who’s missed 42 games over the last five seasons.

Moon’s call: W

Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) Sunday, Sept. 30, Noon

Bucs’ season start was disrupted by Hurricane Irma but not enough to prevent their blowing out Bears in a delayed game one. Bears and Bucs are meeting for fifth straight year and Bucs have won the last two by 26 and 22 points. Trade for Jason Pierre-Paul should help “D” but Jameis Winston needs to step up to elite.

Moon’s call: W

Week 5: Bye

Week 6: at Miami Dolphins (6-10) Sunday, Oct. 14, Noon

Jay Cutler won’t be back, but Adam Gase hired Dowell Loggains as OC and Jeremiah Washburn as O-line coach so Bears-‘Fins matches up a lot of young offensive coaches with a Chicago connection. Miami getting QB Ryan Tannehill back from ACL tear remains a question.

Moon’s call: W

Week 7: New England Patriots (13-3) Sunday, Oct. 21, Noon

Super Bowl hangover? Maybe. Pats just escaped Jacksonville in AFC title game and then were soundly beaten by Eagles in Super Bowl. And internal scratchiness may help opponents. But Tom Brady still tops 4,500 yards. Trading away Jimmy Garoppolo and Brandin Cooks netted high draft picks that Pats need hits with to stay on top.

Moon’s call: L

Week 8: New York Jets (5-11) Sunday, Oct. 28, Noon

Like Bears, Jets have struggled mightily to get QB position right after two straight 5-11 seasons that have Todd Bowles on the coaching bubble. Jets re-signed Josh McCown and will try ex-Bears assistant Jeremy Bates as OC.

Moon’s call: W

Week 9: at Buffalo Bills (9-7) Sunday, Nov. 4, Noon

What Buffalo does from No. 12 in this draft order will be noteworthy, with Bills holding five picks in top 65, in dire need of a quarterback after dealing Tyrod Taylor and signing A.J. McCarron, but having upgraded front seven with Trent Murphy for edge rush and Star Lotulelei for interior strength.

Moon’s call: L

Week 10: Detroit Lions (9-7) Sunday, Nov. 11, Noon

From a one-time patsy, Lions have won nine of their last 10 vs. the Bears, six of the last seven decided by six or fewer points as part of a disturbing Bears trend toward not making plays on offense or stops at tipping points. Detroit prioritized keeping Ziggy Ansah’s pass rush, although he has just 2 sacks and 10 tackles in seven games vs. the Bears while muscling up the defensive interior with Sylvester Williams and the run game with LeGarrette Blount.

Moon’s call: W

Week 11: Minnesota Vikings (13-3) Sunday, Nov. 18, Noon

“Minnesota Miracle” was THE highlight of ’17 for a team that came up a game short of the Super Bowl. Of concern for the NFC North,  a 13-3 team upgraded at its most vital position: The Kirk Cousins Era is upon the Bears and the division. Cousins is 2-0 career vs. Bears, and an elite Vikings “D” got better with addition of DT Sheldon Richardson.

Moon’s call: L

Week 12: at Detroit Lions (9-7) Thursday, Nov. 22, 11:30 a.m.

What the Lions will be under new defense-based head coach Matt Patricia is anyone’s guess. But the Bears have lost five straight in Ford Field and haven’t won there since Lovie Smith’s final year. Matthew Stafford is becoming the poor-man’s Brett Favre for Bears purposes: Stafford hasn’t missed a game vs. anyone in seven years, is 9-1 vs. Bears over last five years and has passer ratings of 115.0 or better in four of his last Bears games.

Moon’s call: L

Week 13: at New York Giants (3-13) Sunday, Dec. 2, Noon

With the No. 2 draft pick, Giants widely expected to grab either RB Saquon Barkley or DE Bradley Chubb, either projected as impact rookies. But NY grappling with declining Eli Manning and four losing seasons out of the last five, double-digit losses in three of last four.

Moon’s call: W

Week 14: Los Angeles Rams (11-5) Sunday, Dec. 9, Noon

The runaway NFL darlings of ’17 responded to a playoff upset by going all-in with signing Ndamukong Suh, and trades for CB’s Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib for a “D” already boasting Aaron Donald. QB Jared Goff played like a first-overall pick and Rams added Brandin Cooks to on NFL’s highest-scoring offense.

Moon’s call: L

Week 15: Green Bay Packers (7-9) Sunday, Dec. 16, Noon

The Packers were needy enough to make a run at Kyle Fuller to improve their secondary, and decided Jordy Nelson didn’t have enough good football left to warrant keeping him. But the Bears couldn’t beat the Pack with Brett Hundley, Aaron Rodgers is now back, and he has a motivated TE Jimmy Graham to throw to.

Moon’s call: L

Week 16: at San Francisco 49ers (6-10) Sunday, Dec. 23, 3:05 p.m.

Two teams with coaching upheaval this decade. Bears-49ers meet for fifth straight year and sixth in last seven, Bears under their fourth head coach in that span. Another chance to vet GM Ryan Pace’s decision to draft Mitch Trubisky rather than trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, who had ‘Niners 5-0 once he became the starter.

Moon’s call: L

Week 17: at Minnesota Vikings (13-3) Sunday, Dec. 30, Noon

Bears haven’t won in Minnesota since ’11 and last three L’s there were by 21, 28 and 13 points, as Vikings have been on the rise and Bears on the decline both during recent seasons and as competitive franchises. Bears desperately need prove-it road “W” to start regaining relevance in NFC North. Bears have ended three of the last four seasons with losses in Minnesota.

Moon’s call: L

Season prediction: 7-9

The hype is real for the 'natural' Matt Nagy-Mitch Trubisky relationship

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USA Today Sports Images

The hype is real for the 'natural' Matt Nagy-Mitch Trubisky relationship

For Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy’s offense just makes sense

Mitch Trubisky is still in the nascent stages of learning Matt Nagy’s offense, with this week’s three voluntary minicamp practices beginning to introduce Bears players to the basic concepts of it. 

But this is an offense that, as Trubisky put it, feels more “natural” to his skillset. The frequent use of the shotgun, the RPOs and some of the reads already appear to be a better fit for Trubisky than the conservative, dour offense he ran a year ago (that, to be fair, had lesser personnel). 

“That’s definitely why I love this offense and the coaches and how they’re handling this process,” Trubisky said. “We’re really starting from ground bottom and we start each play with why; this is what it’s good against and if we don’t get this type defense then these are our options to go off that. So this is what we want and if we don’t get this, this is how we adjust from there. They do a great job teaching it, and it’s not only me, all the other positions know the whys of the offense, so everybody will be on the same page. We’ll all have answers and we’ll be able to click as an offense because everybody knows our jobs and what we’re looking for.” 

This is about as important as a development you’ll find in mid-April. The Bears hired Nagy to tether to Trubisky; in turn, Nagy hired a quarterbacks guy in Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator and retained Dave Ragone to be Trubisky’s position coach. Then Ryan Pace signed Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray to back up Trubisky, providing the 2017 No. 2 overall pick with two guys who know the intricacies and language of Nagy’s offense from learning it during their respective years with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

“I feel like these last three days, I’ve been coached more than I ever have,” Trubisky said. That’s not necessarily a shot at last year’s coaching staff, to be fair — there just wasn’t a similar structure in place centered around him. 

It’s not just that the Bears have hired a bunch of quarterback coaches and signed a few veteran backups, though. It’s that all of these moves, from Nagy to Bray, have been tailored to giving Trubisky the best chance to succeed. So, it’s telling that the early returns on those efforts are so positive. 

“He played so much shotgun in college at Carolina,” Nagy said. “So much, and the stuff that we do is easy for him. Now he has to just take that language that he learned in North Carolina, put it into our language, and then what's going to happen is you're going to see an evolution to him. 

“Right now, calling the plays in the huddle is easy. That is not one concern at all for him, calling plays. To me, that's a step forward, because he's ahead of the game, because when he's at the line of scrimmage now, now it's his first wide vision of just understanding the defense and seeing what's coming at him.”

Running back Tarik Cohen said this week that Trubisky was already calling audibles in the huddle during practice, which is another sign that this offense is coming naturally to Trubisky. Trubisky’s teammates talked this week about how he’s taken an even greater command of the Bears as a leader even in the early stages of the offseason program, a role he’ll continue to grow into as he gets more comfortable with the language of Nagy’s offense. 

Does this mean you should start carving out weekends in January to watch the Bears in the playoffs for the first time in eight years? Of course not. But the 2018 season is all about how Trubisky develops as a quarterback. 

And right now, in mid-April, all the signs emanating from Halas Hall indicate that process is going well. 

“It’s exciting,” Trubisky said. “I think that’s why (Nagy) gives me glimpses and previews and we have those side conversations. Just knowing what we’re going to be in the future. First things first, you have to master the basics and build off and go from there. But it’s just exciting to talk about and know that’s where we could be down the line.”