Among the Bears' multiple needs to fill out their roster this offseason, what's believed to be a strong draft for tight ends will afford general manager Ryan Pace the potential to fortify the position behind Zach Miller and build competition with developmental options Dan Brown and Ben Braunecker.
Miller finally played a full season in 2015 as part of an NFL career that dates back to 2009 and included not playing in a single game over a three-year span. But the injury bug bit him again in the Bears' 10th game this season as the new starter, after already surpassing the career highs he set in 2015 for receptions and receiving yards. Yet he told former Bear Tom Thayer and me Monday night on "Bears All Access" on "670 The Score" he's on schedule from the fractured Lisfranc in his right foot suffered against the Giants in November.
"Everything's going great. I'll be ready when we get back in April," Miller said. "Everything's going according to plan, ahead of schedule. I've been through this exact rehab schedule before. I know what it entails and I've been able to bounce back and play at a high level before, and I'm comfortable with that. You just gotta put in the time and the work, and when it's time to get back in April and go through OTAs I'll just build on that and work towards getting ready for training camp."
While familiarity of this kind brings frustration and contempt, there's also, in a weird way, a sense of comfort with the injury. Miller was on his way to earning a roster spot in an impressive preseason after the Bears signed him in 2014, only to suffer the same break in his left foot.
"I knew as soon as my foot planted," Miller said of the second instance. "JPP (Giants defense end Jason Pierre-Paul) and I kind of got tangled up in the way we fell. As soon as it happened, I told Jay (Cutler, in what turned into his last game of the season, too) as I was walking off, `I blew my other Lisfranc,' and he said, `What?' As I was hobbling to the sidelines Nate Breske, our head trainer, said, 'You want me to get the cart?' And I didn't wanna be carted off so I just walked, and put all the pressure on my heel because every time you step, your foot basically slides in half. But it was something I knew instantly. Obviously frustrated, but it's something I've been through before, so we'll get through it."
Miller's performance two seasons ago in supplementing the position with Martellus Bennett factored into the Bears parting ways with the eccentric, self-nicknamed "Black Unicorn" in a deal last offseason with the Patriots. His former teammate got to watch Bennett win a Super Bowl ring for New England Sunday night.
"We've talked a couple times throughout the season. If he had good games or I had good games, we'd text. He hit me up after the injury, and I spoke with him a couple of times throughout the playoffs just to wish him well. And I spoke to him (Monday) to congratulate him. But I watched him, and when he had his opportunity (in Sunday's win over Atlanta), he did his thing. He played well so I'm happy for him and his family to be able to enjoy that moment."