Anthony Miller

Anthony Miller played ‘with like one arm’ during rookie season with Bears

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USA TODAY

Anthony Miller played ‘with like one arm’ during rookie season with Bears

Anthony Miller showed flashes of a breakout receiver during his rookie season with the Bears, and he was far from full strength.

He dislocated his shoulder against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3, the first of many times his shoulder came out of its socket.

“Every time I tried to stiff arm, it would come out, or if I ran kind of crazy, it would come out,” Miller told the Chicago Tribune. “Really I was playing games with like one arm, making it happen. This year I’ve got two, so watch out.”

Miller had surgery to fix the issue back in January, and he should be back to full strength well in time for his sophomore season.

He set expectations high for his rookie year, and he’s putting them higher for his second act.

“Last year, you guys said, ‘Could I get six touchdowns?’ And I was telling you it was too low, and I got seven,” Miller said. “So I’m telling you 12 this time. Hopefully I can get over that.”

Only four receivers in Bears history have scored 12 or more touchdowns in a season. Before Brandon Marshall in 2013, the last one was Curtis Conway in 1995.

Anthony Miller isn’t backing down from the challenge.

NFL Combine notes: Could the Bears keep both Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos?

NFL Combine notes: Could the Bears keep both Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos?

INDIANAPOLIS — The biggest questions the Bears have to answer in the two weeks before the beginning of the 2019 league year revolve around two impending free agents: Slot corner Bryce Callahan and safety Adrian Amos. 

The Bears cleared $2.9 million in cap space by restructuring Kyle Long’s contract, according to multiple reports, and with that have a little over $14 million in cap space, per Spotrac. General manager Ryan Pace on Wednesday didn’t rule out other re-structuring moves that could generate more cap space in 2019, though he declined to address specifics about those potential discussions. 

Regardless, Pace said the Bears aren’t approaching the impending free agencies of Callahan and Amos as a situation in which they can only retain one of the two players. 

“I wouldn’t say it’s either/or and there’s ongoing discussions,” Pace said. 

Notable on Wednesday was how both Pace and coach Matt Nagy talked about the importance of a slot corner. Pace mentioned the Bears were in sub packages about 85 percent of the time, while Nagy pointed to the rising demand for slot corners. 

“You’ve got to be able to have a guy that can play in that slot, that can cover a wide receiver that’s a good route runner, that can do things underneath, but he’s got to be a tackler coming off the edge to be able to blitz and make different tackles,” Nagy said. “The market is going up for those type of guys.”

That could have an impact on Callahan’s price in free agency. As for Amos, the Bears value his durability and skillset, but safeties can be unearthed in the middle of drafts — as the team found with not only Amos (a 2015 fifth-round pick) but Eddie Jackson, a 2017 fourth-rounder. 

“I thought (Amos) played well,” Pace said. “He played solid and the ball production increased as the season went on and I think he was comfortable in the defense. you know he's an example of a player that we drafted and developed and he's gotten better. He's a great teammate and a good Bear.”

Miller on the mend

Wide receiver Anthony Miller had shoulder surgery shortly after the Bears’ season ended and could be limited for OTAs and minicamp during the offseason program, Pace said Wednesday. The Bears don’t have a timeline for his return, but it sounds like they’ll be cautious with the 2018 second-round pick, who had his shoulder pop out multiple times last season. 

Miller, though, only missed one game despite that balky shoulder and largely impressed Nagy with his play and how he carried himself during his rookie year. 

“Not a lot of guys have more confidence in him, which I love,” Nagy said. “You got to see, No. 1, how much could he handle of the offense as we went. We didn’t know that, but he took a lot of the offense on and did a great job with it. We put him in different spots to make plays. You saw that happen. 

“For him, mentally, he gets to see, OK, how do I play this game as a true professional. It’s 100 percent football all the time. He’s learning that. He’s becoming a student of the game. As far as his injury, he had the surgery, and we’ll get that right. I don’t know what the exact time, but hopefully in the spring/summer he’ll be back.”

Odds & ends

— The Bears do not expect Chase Daniel to use the buy-out clause in his contract and become a free agent, nor is the team planning on releasing him and netting a couple million dollars in cap savings. “We expect Chase to be a Bear for a long time,” Pace said. 

— Pace said the Bears’ preference would be to have their off week in 2019 after they play the Oakland Raiders in London. That would likely place the off week sometime in October around the middle of the season. 

— The Bears’ line of thinking in releasing kicker Cody Parkey at the start of the league year is to use a June 1 designation on him, allowing the team to not absorb an additional $1.125 million cap hit. Parkey’s contract, per Spotrac, stipulated that if he’s released before June 1, 2019, the Bears would have to eat that additional cap space, but the June 1 designation allows him to become a free agent before then without the Bears being penalized.

Bears grades and needs: Do Robinson, top WRs have another gear in 2019?

Bears grades and needs: Do Robinson, top WRs have another gear in 2019?

2018 Depth Chart

1. Allen Robinson
Usage: 13 games, 71.2 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $15 million cap hit

From a production standpoint, Robinson’s 94 targets, 55 receptions, 754 yards and four touchdowns aren’t eye-popping for a guy on a three-year, $42 million contract. But his averages weren’t all that far off from what he did in 2016. To compare:

2016: 12.1 yards/reception, 4.6 receptions/game, 55.2 yards/game, 48.3 catch percentage, 0.4 TDs/game

2018: 13.7 yards/reception, 4.2 receptions/game, 58 yards/game, 58.5 catch percentage, 0.3 TDs/game

Robinson did miss three games with groin and rib injuries, limiting his overall numbers. But if what he did in 2018 is the baseline for his time in Chicago, that’s not a bad thing — especially because there are reasons to believe Robinson can be even better in 2019. 

The No. 1 reason, which Robinson pointed out a day after the Bears’ season ended, is he’ll begin this year’s offseason program in April fully healthy, as opposed to a year ago when he was still rehabbing the torn ACL that ended his 2017 season in Week 1. 

“Just being able to go into OTAs and training camp and having that time period to be at 100 percent, to be able to condition myself for a whole season, just being able to prepare a lot better,” Robinson said. “Being able to not be just worried about getting back on the field and playing and running routes at about 60, 70, 80, 85 percent. Being able to do that at 100 percent and getting those 100 percent quality reps is going to be big.”

Robinson broke a franchise record with 143 receiving yards in the wild card loss to the Eagles, with the 33 yards he gained on consecutive catches getting the Bears into field goal range for Cody Parkey’s ill-fated double-doink. The connection he showed with Mitch Trubisky in a brief playoff appearance was encouraging, and expectations in 2019 should be high for a guy who doesn’t turn 26 until a few weeks before the season begins.  

2. Taylor Gabriel
Usage: 16 games, 77.2 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $6.5 million cap hit

Gabriel blew past his career highs in targets (93; previous high: 72), receptions (67; previous high: 36), yards (688; previous high: 621), catch percentage (72, previous high: 70) and offensive snaps (830; previous high: 61.2). Gabriel had six receptions of 30 or more yards, and flashed some impressive downfield ball skills on tough 40-plus yard grabs against the Dolphins (twice) and Vikings. 

Over half of Gabriel’s receptions on third down generated a first down, with the 5-foot-8, 165 pound receiver displaying strong hands and slick route running to become a favorite target of Trubisky’s when he needed to gain tough yardage. Gabriel’s catch percentage ranked 14th among qualified receivers in 2018. 

With opposing defenses often working to take away the deep ball from Trubisky’s arsenal, Gabriel didn't have a ton of downfield opportunities (he averaged a little under one target of 20 or more yards downfield per game, per PFF). He wasn’t able to do much after the catch, either — per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, he had the league’s third-worst difference in his average yards after the catch per reception (3.6) to his expected YAC per reception (5.1), though that number is likely skewed by some of the screens and short throws that required better blocking execution around him. 

Even if Gabriel’s statistical profile may not show it, he remains a speedy, versatile threat who Matt Nagy surely will try to do more things with in 2019. This is a guy nicknamed “Turbo,” after all. 

3. Anthony Miller
Usage: 15 games, 53.6 percent of offensive snaps, 9.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $1,216,750 cap hit

Miller may miss some or all of OTAs and minicamp after undergoing offseason surgery to repair his shoulder, which separated twice during the season (including once while he was carrying an end-around against the Vikings in Week 17). Miller, though, wore a shoulder harness and battled his way through the season, playing in 15 games and leading the Bears with seven receiving touchdowns. 

Miller did disappear within the offense for a three-week stretch in December, only receiving three targets against the Giants, Rams and Packers. But that stretch didn’t change the team’s long-term outlook for the former second-round pick. 

“We probably overloaded him to some extent in the middle of the season because we, ‘Oh, my gosh, throw everything at him!’ And we kind of throttled that back a little bit,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said in the midst of that December stretch. “People adjusted to him, you know. For a while it was, ‘Hey, let’s cover this guy. Or double this guy. Or what about this guy?’ So he’s been played a little bit differently but very, very excited about his future.”

4. Josh Bellamy 
Usage: 16 games, 29.9 percent of offensive snaps, 57.8 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

“Beezo” will hit free agency as one of the most popular, universally-respected players in the Bears’ locker room. He’s a core special teamer and has the flexibility to play all three receiver positions in Nagy’s offense. 

While Bellamy did mis-handle a Trubisky pass that led to an interception against the Patriots in October, he only had one other drop during the season, per PFF. He’s much better suited for the role he played in 2018 — fourth/fifth receiver, core special teamer — than having to be relied upon as a top-three receiver, which he had to be frequently during the John Fox era. His offensive usage rate in 2018 was the lowest in his four-year tenure with the Bears. 

That’s all to say it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears retain Bellamy in free agency next month. 

5. Kevin White
Usage: 9 games, 15.9 percent of offensive snaps, 1.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

White’s future with the Bears was sealed in Week 9, when he was among the inactives for a game against the Buffalo Bills in which Robinson (who, to be fair, played a different receiver position) was inactive as well. Nagy hoped having White focus on playing on position — he was the backup to Gabriel — would allow him to being to seize on the potential that led Ryan Pace to draft him seventh overall in 2015. That didn’t happen. 

White was healthy for the entire 2018 season, which was a positive, but was only targeted eight times. Some team will take a flier on him in free agency, but he’ll face an uphill battle to earn an active roster spot wherever he lands. 

6. Javon Wims
Usage: 4 games, 2.8 percent of offensive snaps, 1.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $593,978 cap hit

Wims is an intriguing prospect with good size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds), good hands and good ball skills. Still, he wasn’t able to crack the Bears’ receiver rotation and was only active for one-quarter of the team’s games. 

Still, WIms likely left a positive impression on coaches with two tough catches on third down against the Vikings in Week 17. He’ll be given an opportunity to move up the depth chart during the offseason program and OTAs, but he’ll have to show improvement as a route runner to assure himself of a roster spot in 2019. 

7. Tanner Gentry
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

The Bears likely will bring in a few other receivers for camp competition with Wims and/or to replace White on the roster, with Gentry being a part of that competition. The Bears liked him enough to keep him on the practice squad all season and give him a reserve/future contract, but the 2017 training camp fan favorite has a long way to go to earn a roster spot. 

8. Cyril Grayson
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Grayson actually has a fascinating background: He’s a former track star who ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at LSU’s pro day in 2017, landing him a contract with the Seahawks despite not playing a down of football since his senior year of high school in 2011. The Bears signed him to their practice squad in November and will keep him around as their roster swells for training camp. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 3

The Bears have decisions to make on Bellamy and the depth behind Robinson/Gabriel/Miller. Drafting a receiver wouldn’t be out of the question if there’s someone scouts like, but this isn’t a position at which the Bears will spend much in free agency outside of retaining Bellamy and/or bringing in some cheap veteran competition for training camp. 

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