Bears

One reason why Anthony Miller may be on the route to immediate success in the NFL

One reason why Anthony Miller may be on the route to immediate success in the NFL

A year after three wide receivers went in the first 10 picks of the 2017 NFL Draft, two were picked in the first round this year — and it took 75 percent of the draft to be competed for D.J. Moore (No. 24, Carolina Panthers) and Calvin Ridley (No. 26, Atlanta Falcons) to go off the board. 

Perhaps the top end of this year’s receiver class was “weak,” in a sense. But while the NFL is firmly a passing league, it’s becoming harder for teams to find plug-and-play receivers through the draft who have a baseline knowledge of route concepts. 

Anthony Miller was the sixth receiver taken in the 2018 draft, and brings to the Bears an important trait: He’s well-regarded as a route runner despite playing in what's, on the surface, a typical college spread offense at Memphis. 

“You want to be able to see throughout their pro days, the combine, what they put on tape — any time you can see a route that relates to what you do as an offense, you kind of tag that and say, ‘OK. Hey, there it is. I found one,’” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. 

The Bears identified plenty of those tags with Miller, but one in particular stands out: His ability to set the angle with his quarterback. 

And that’s not something to take for granted. Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr wrote about this earlier in April:

Take one of the most basic components of the NFL route tree: the curl. For years, the receiver was taught to run 12 yards, plant hard and work back to the quarterback at a 45-degree angle. This allows the quarterback to throw a split-second early—like when the receiver digs his heel in to turn.

Now, receivers are coming out of school running the curl as a continuous semicircle, which creates myriad problems at the next level.

“When you’re running a semicircle, you’re keeping your arms moving and chopping, some coaches think its great because you’re playing fast, you’re not stopping,” Proehl says. “But a guy running a semicircle, if I’m running it and a guy like Kelvin Benjamin is running it, our circles are going to be different. The quarterback has to wait for you to come out and square your shoulders. That takes more time.”

That extra time means defensive backs have a window to undercut the route.

“When you come to him, plant your foot in the ground and come back at an angle, you’re boxing him out. He’s behind you. You create and maintain separation with your angle coming back to the QB.”

That setting-the-angle skill far too many college receivers lack is something the Bears quickly identified as a part of Miller’s game. 

“And so with Anthony, you see a guy that at the top of his route, he likes to stick the top of the route and it’s sharp, so what that does is it sets the angle for the quarterback,” Nagy said. “And you don’t see that from every wide receiver. There’s a violent move for him to be able to set angles, whether it’s a slant route, a post route, an out route, et cetera, he’s aggressive with it and I think that fits his style of play.”

And here’s what Miller’s college wide receivers coach, David Johnson, had to say about his ability to set the angle:

“He understands angles, he understands — and I think one of the biggest things people don’t recognize, his first three steps, everything is at full speed, whether he’s blocking, he’s running a route, the first three steps are important,” Johnson said. “He’s coming off the ball and making everything look vertical. He’s always in attack mode, and that helped him with route-running, putting the defensive back always on the defensive and thinking he doesn’t want to get ran by. He plays fast, he plays a lot faster than his 40 is, especially when he gets the ball in his hands.”

This may seem like a minor detail, but for Miller’s ability to quickly find success in the NFL, it’s important. Reliably setting an angle for Mitch Trubisky should help Miller and his new quarterback build some chemistry throughout the offseason program and training camp. 

And, more immediately, it’s one fewer thing wide receivers coach Mike Furrey will have to begin to teach him this weekend during rookie minicamp. And that means the limited practice time Furrey will have with his second-round pupil can be spent on, perhaps, topics less basic to a wide receiver than setting the angle on a curl route.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

Seth Gruen, Chris Emma and Matt Zahn join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester pitches like Jon Lester again and the offense does just enough to win in Pittsburgh. Jim Deshaies joins the guys to talk about the Cubs.

 

Should Roquan Smith make his preseason debut in Denver? Plus the Ohio State controversy takes a salacious turn. Will Urban Meyer keep his job when the investigation wraps up Sunday?

 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

DENVER — Expect the Bears’ starters to play deeper into the first half on Saturday in Denver than they did last week in Cincinnati, but their time on the field will still be relatively brief. The real dress rehearsal for the Bears will be next weekend, when they gameplan for and host the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 25. 

But Saturday’s game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium still represents sort of a checkpoint in the buildup to Sept. 9’s season-opening tilt with the Green Bay Packers. It’ll be the last game of the installation phase of the offseason, with coaches turning their focus to gameplanning for the Chiefs next week and then the Packers afterwards. 

There’s still plenty to be learned on Saturday, though. A few things to watch:

1. Will the first-team offense actually produce?

Mitch Trubisky this week bristled at the notion preseason games didn’t matter — “They don’t matter?” he said. “Then why do you guys talk about them so much?” — which fits with the attitude of a guy who was fairly frustrated with his and his teammates’ performance against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Trubisky wasn’t happy with offense’s sloppy and ineffective play during the two drives he quarterbacked, and wasn’t willing to write it off as “just” a preseason game. 

“No matter what it is, if it’s on the practice field, if I’m in the backyard by myself, if it’s a preseason game, we’re trying to get better and we’re trying to move the football,” Trubisky said. “That’s what great players do. That’s what great teams do. We’re trying to get some momentum and everybody do our job and execute the offense.”

Still, because the Bears aren’t doing much in the way of gameplanning for the Broncos, any production or lack thereof won’t tell us much about the direction in which this offense is headed. More important will be how successful this group is next week against the Chiefs. 

But Trubisky’s competitiveness means he’s not going to let a poor performance slide, even if it’s only for a few series in a game that doesn’t count. He and the Bears hope that translates into some first downs and points on Saturday. 

2. Some notable debuts

Helping Trubisky’s cause will be the 2018 preseason debuts of running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Allen Robinson, as well as running back Tarik Cohen — who only played one snap against Cincinnati — perhaps being used more. 

The Bears’ offense will not be at full strength, with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (foot) and tight end Dion Sims (concussion) still out. But for Trubisky, it’ll be a good opportunity for him to see how all the work he and Robinson put in to develop a chemistry in the last few weeks translates to the field.

“We continue to create that chemistry in practice and my job is just to get the ball to the playmakers,” Trubisky said. “The more playmakers we have on the field, just continue to get them the ball and let them do what they do and we just need to roll as an offense, be on the same page, everyone continue to do their job, lock in and go out there and have fun an execute. It’ll be nice to see those guys with the ball in their hands this weekend.”

3. What about Roquan?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith in full uniform going through pregame warmups, but it would qualify as a minor surprise if he actually played on Saturday. 

The benefit to Smith playing would be working to accelerate his development with an eye on Week 1, even if it’s only for a few snaps. But does the risk of him getting injured outweigh whatever benefit playing him would provide?

It’s a question the Bears surely are debating. But coaches and trainers made sure to not push Smith too hard in this week’s joint practices against the Broncos, and it would be risky to put him in Saturday but tell him to not play at full speed. 

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Smith to play on Saturday, but more likely would be No. 58 making his preseason debut against the Chiefs with another week of practice under his belt. 

4. Snap decisions

James Daniels felt like he was a little sloppy last week against the Bengals, specifically with his hand placement but more broadly because the intensity of things was increased. 

“I think that’s when my technique gets sloppy is when you’re out there and playing against somebody else, you’re really playing,” Daniels said. 

This week’s joint practices, then, were beneficial for Daniels to focus on keeping his technique sound in a more intense setting. And he had the opportunity to do that all while still playing center, not left guard, where he had been working up until last week. How Bears coaches evaluate Daniels' week of practice — which certainly wasn't perfect — will be important, especially in the context of...

... Cody Whitehair going through a snapping “slump” over the last week or so, starting with that preseason game in Cincinnati. If those low/high snaps crop up again Saturday, and Daniels is able to put in a solid day of work with the second-team offensive line, it may nudge the Bears toward moving Whitehair to guard and inserting the second-round Iowa product into the starting lineup. 

The Bears haven’t considered that move yet, though, and the plan all along has been to keep Whitehair at center. A lot has to happen for that plan to change: If Whitehair can’t consistently get snaps to Trubisky, if Daniels proves he’s one of the team’s best five offensive linemen, and then if Daniels proves he’s a better option at center than Whitehair. So far, the Bears haven’t arrived at any of those conclusions, but Saturday’s game could have a significant impact on what those conclusions wind up being. 

5. Down-the-depth-chart position battles

Plenty of players fighting for a spot on the Week 1 53-man roster will get an extended opportunity to put more good — or bad — things on film on Saturday. 

Near the top of the depth chart, Adam Shaheen will have another opportunity to keep his arrow pointing up at the “Y” tight end spot with Sims still out. Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris will continue their competition for the final starting spot on the defensive line, with Bullard still likely the slight favorite. Nick Kwiatkoski can help his case to hold off Smith with another solid showing in what’s been a solid preseason. 

An all-hands-on-deck competition to be the Bears’ reserve outside corner is developing, and with Prince Amukamara (groin) not practicing this week, everyone from that group will get a chance to help their case of making the Week 1 roster. Marcus Cooper needs to have a better game than he did against Cincinnati, while 2017 practice squad’er Doran Grant should get plenty of opportunities, too. For undrafted rookies Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and John Franklin III, it’s a big opportunity, too, to turn a longshot bid for a roster spot into something more realistic.