Zach Miller

By NFL’s proposed common sense catch rules, Zach Miller would’ve kept his touchdown

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USA Today

By NFL’s proposed common sense catch rules, Zach Miller would’ve kept his touchdown

ORLANDO — NFL head of officiating Al Riveron supplied only a one-word answer when asked Monday if Zach Miller, by the league’s proposed re-written definition of a catch, would’ve kept his touchdown on the play that might’ve also ended his career.

“Touchdown,” Riveron said.

Nothing else really needed to be said. Miller shredded the popliteal artery in his left leg when he awkwardly landed in the Superdome end zone, an injury so serious it nearly required his knee to be amputated. That Miller’s touchdown was taken away by the league’s obtuse rules added insult to injury, quite literally. 

The competition committee’s proposed definition of a catch says that a player must have control of the football with two feet or another body part on the ground in bounds, and then must perform a “football move” to complete the catch. Some examples of football moves provided by Riveron on Monday were taking a third step and reaching for the goal line/line to gain. The new rule still has to be ratified by at least 24 of 32 owners here in Orlando for the annual league meetings. 

“We want to take these great catches and make them catches,” Riveron said. 

Under the proposal, controversial overturned incompletions charged to Pittsburgh’s Jesse James, Buffalo’s Kelvin Benjamin and Dallas’ Dez Bryant would’ve remained catches, too. No longer will “slight movement” trigger an incomplete pass; the proposed guideline is “loss of control.” 

Miller’s touchdown was overturned by Riveron due to that slight movement, even if it didn’t necessarily appear clear on the replay. And even though this won’t get Miller his touchdown back, maybe it’ll grant him a little vindication going forward. 

Free agent focus: Which players could the Bears look to keep?

Free agent focus: Which players could the Bears look to keep?

The first decisions general manager Ryan Pace will have to make later this month are on which of his own players from the 2017 season he’d like to try to retain. There are 10 key names here to focus on before negotiations with other teams can begin March 12 and contracts can be finalized March 14.

Dontrelle Inman

Inman brought some much-needed length to the Bears’ receiving corps when Pace traded for him in October, and he caught 13 of 22 targets for 195 yards in his first three games in Chicago. But Inman’s production tailed off, with Mitchell Trubisky targeting him only eight times (with five receptions) for 45 yards and a touchdown in his next four games before Inman finished the season with five catches on 10 targets for 94 yards against the Minnesota Vikings. 

Former offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said in December that Inman’s decrease in usage was because teams quickly figured out that they could take him out of the gameplan by training their focus on him.

“Coverage,” Loggains said. “That’s as simple as it is. Nothing that he’s done or we’re trying to take him out of progressions.”

That’s not surprising — Inman isn’t a No. 1 receiver who can beat that kind of coverage — but the 6-foot-3 former Charger could be an option to return, and would be better suited as a rotational guy or someone who isn’t relied on to be the top target for Trubisky. 

Kendall Wright

The 28-year-old Wright led the Bears in targets (91) receptions (59) and yards (614) and played in all 16 games for the first time since his breakout 2013 season. But the Bears preferred to try to limit Wright’s snaps, as Loggains explained in October: “When he gets to play in that 25-35 range and he’s fresh and can bring the energy and juice,” he said. 

The Bears’ plan for Wright when they signed him a year ago was to have him be a complementary piece to their three top outside targets (Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, Markus Wheaton). With Meredith and White suffering season-ending injuries by the end of Week 1 and Wheaton proving to be a bust, the Bears had to rely on Wright more than they would’ve liked. 

As long as the Bears can better fill out the rest of their receiver depth chart, Wright not only would be a prime candidate to return, but someone who could be a productive part of the 2018 offense. 

Mark Sanchez

Sanchez wasn’t active for any of the Bears’ 16 games but still made a positive impact on the team in 2017. Specifically, the 31-year-old had a strong relationship with Trubisky, and the Bears could aim to keep that relationship intact. 

“He did a good job this year, all the things we value with him, his veteran leadership and his experiences,” Pace said, adding that Sanchez has expressed a desire to return to the Bears. “He’s a free agent, those are all evaluations that are ongoing.”

The bigger question is if the team believes Sanchez could be a viable backup after not dressing for a single game in 2017. There are other options on the free agent market, but it’s worth noting that one of those guys — Chase Daniel, who has connections to Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy — also didn’t throw a pass in 2017 (and has only thrown three since the end of the 2014 season).

Tom Compton

Compton was a steady presence as a reserve when he played and has the flexibility to play both guard and tackle. If Eric Kush is healthy after tearing his ACL last August, Compton could be a candidate to return as a swing tackle, or the Bears could look for someone on the free agent market. Worth noting is Compton’s relatively frequent presence on the Bears’ weekly injury reports last season. 

Zach Miller

Miller, unfortunately, doesn’t seem likely to play football again after dislocating his knee and tearing his popliteal artery against the New Orleans Saints, which nearly led to his leg being amputated. If Miller’s playing career is over, it’s a shame given he was one of the most well-liked players to pass through Halas Hall in recent memory. 

Kyle Fuller

If Pace were to use the franchise tag on Fuller, it likely would be a bridge to a long-term contract extension instead of using it to keep the cornerback under control for another year at $15 million. Fuller was one of four cornerbacks to break up 20 or more passes in 2017, but his inconsistent play in 2014 and 2015, as well as the injury that cost him the entire 2016 season, does present some risk. 

The Bears could opt to not use the franchise tag on Fuller and let him hit the open market and still have the confidence that they could re-sign him. To start: This year’s free agent cornerback class is headlined by Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland and E.J. Gaines. Fuller would be entering a deep pool of cornerbacks, which Pace pointed out on Tuesday. 

“I would say cornerback this year in free agency and the draft is a good position, so that’s beneficial to us,” Pace said. 

It could be beneficial to the Bears specifically with Fuller, as a super-rich contract might not materialize if those go to Johnson and Butler. The Bears should be able to pitch Fuller, too, on the consistency in their defensive coaching staff — specifically, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell — as being the best option for the former first-round pick to continue to develop as a player. 

But too, if the Bears were lose Fuller to free agency, they could replace him with a couple of free agents or a free agent and a high draft pick. As Pace said, the depth of the cornerbacks available over the next two months is beneficial to the Bears. 

Prince Amukamara

Amukamara was a solid enough cornerback at times, but he didn’t record an interception and was penalized seven times for 99 yards, the most of any Bears defensive player in 2017 (Fuller, for comparison, was penalized three times for 21 yards). Amukamara turns 29 in June and is coming off back-to-back one-year deals. Would he take another one? And would the Bears want him back regardless? Again, the deep free agent market/draft pool could help the Bears find an upgrade over Amukamara. 

If the Bears do keep Amukamara, they very well could still draft a cornerback with an early round pick in April. 

Christian Jones

Jones totaled 57 tackles with two pass break-ups, one forced fumble and two sacks while playing well as a reserve next to Danny Trevathan. He’s played three years in Vic Fangio’s defense and seems like a likely candidate to return. 

Mitch Unrein

Unrein was not only a favorite of former coach John Fox but is a favorite of defense line coach Jay Rodgers. Re-signing him and then having 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard compete with him for playing time could be a productive path. 

One thing Rodgers liked about Unrein last year was that helped the rest of the defensive line — standouts Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks — play faster. 

“Mitch is the glue that kind of holds it all together,” Rodgers said. “Very versatile player, he’s played every position on the front during the course of his career. He knows me, he knows what the expectation is, he knows how to communicate, he knows what’s coming, run game, pass game, he puts it all together. And when he’s out there on the field with those guys, he allows those guys to play fast. And if they know what’s coming their way, then they can play even faster. And I think his demand in the room of knowing what to do, when to do it and how to do it, raises the elevation of the other guys in the room. And he holds them accountable to knowing their stuff.” 

Lamarr Houston

The Bears parted ways with Houston before the 2017 season, then brought him back in late November after injuries sapped the team’s depth at outside linebacker. Houston notched four sacks in five games after returning to the Bears, and without many more productive edge rushers who could potentially hit the free market, Houston could be a candidate to return to help fill out the team’s pass rushing depth. 

Zach Miller feels for Jesse James and hopes the NFL brings 'a little bit of common sense' to definition of a catch

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USA Today

Zach Miller feels for Jesse James and hopes the NFL brings 'a little bit of common sense' to definition of a catch

Zach Miller had a message to another tight end who had a touchdown taken away thanks to the NFL’s bizarre and inscrutable catch rule: “I feel for you, brother.”

Miller, who received the PFWA Chicago Chapter's “Good Guy” Award on Thursday at Halas Hall, was referring to Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James, who on Sunday had what looked to be a go-ahead touchdown overturned on replay review. James caught a pass from Ben Roethlisberger, stretched toward the goal line and, according to the NFL, did not “survive the ground” in his attempt to score a go-ahead touchdown in a pivotal AFC clash against the New England Patriots. 

The NFL’s inability to clearly communicate the definition of a catch continues to be a bad look for the league, especially in such a high-profile moment as the Steelers-Patriots game on Sunday night. 

Miller knows all too well the inconsistencies of the NFL’s definition of a catch, having had what was initially a touchdown overturned on the play on which he dislocated his knee and tore an artery against the New Orleans Saints in October. 

“I don't know where this is going, where it's already been,” Miller, who began walking without for the first time since his injury this week, said. “I feel like we probably need to bring in a little bit of common sense to this thing.”

Miller said he hasn’t watched NFL senior vice president of officiating Alberto Riveron’s explanation of why his touchdown in New Orleans was overturned, which you might remember featured this arrow “showing” the ball being on the ground:

Miller, though, did say he watched Riveron’s explanation of why James’ touchdown was overturned to being an incomplete pass, which has been viewed over 1 million times on twitter. 

“First of all it's hard to listen to it, the monotone talk — that's not for me to hear,” Miller said. “Give me my touchdown back and maybe I'll listen to his takes. But I haven't heard mine.”

Miller doesn’t feel the need to get an explanation from Riveron as to why what could’ve been the final reception of his career was overturned to being an incompletion. 

“I can walk him through it,” Miller said, “how it really happened.”