Bears' wide receiver coach Mike Furrey didn't hold back when asked about Anthony Miller last week:
"The first quarter to half of the season last year, I just don’t think from a maturity standpoint, preparation standpoint, that Anthony was 100 percent all in," he said. "He still had that college mentality that ability was gonna allow him to overcome whatever he wanted to overcome in games ... we’re watching the Packers game sitting there thinking, ‘One of our best players is not on the field, and the reason why is because you can’t trust him.'"
The thing is – Miller agrees. As the Bears' receiver starts his third year in the league, Miller openly admits that becoming a professional football player and being a professional football player didn't happen simultaneously. Speaking on Friday morning, he talked about how it's taken him a couple seasons to appropriately appreciate the finer nuances of being an NFL wide receiver. Details like route depth and missed assignments are no longer secondary to 'just going out there and playing.'
"It’s just, you know, learning how to operate within the meeting room, the weight room, just around the whole building," he added. "Just being a complete pro. I think this is the year that I will be that.
"When [Furrey] says, 'this isn't the playground anymore,' he's saying like, I have more responsibility this year within the offense, and I'm ready to take that role. And I'm ready for any challenge he throws my way."
Matt Nagy's unique brand of buzzword-y, enthusiastic optimism tends to trickle down to the assistants, which only makes the approach they take with Miller more notable. It's hard to think of another player in the Nagy Era that coaches have openly doubted – which, it seems, is by design.
"I think this is the first year that I actually can sense there’s an intent there," Furrey added, giving Miller credit for becoming an active participant in meetings and on the practice field. "He gets it."
There's also the fact that Miller's a new father, which always has a way of putting things in perspective. "Having a child definitely will change your life," he said. "You have a small person that is looking up to you. Everything you do, he’s paying attention to. It has definitely made me tighten up in certain aspects of my life. And I’m pretty sure it’s only going to get better as my career goes on."
August optimism is abundant in the NFL, but Miller and the Bears actually look at the end of last season – a stretch starting in Week 10 when he 35 catches, 438 yards, and two touchdowns – as evidence that Miller's maturity won't fall flat as another training camp cliché. Another season alongside Allen Robinson, who Miller called 'the leader we need on this team' (coughRyanPacecough), doesn't hurt, either.
"It’s really just the small things that will push you through most of the time," Miller said. "And Allen is a big guy on the small details. He does everything right. And he has been a good guy to look up to. I’m glad he is on our team."