Zach Miller knows what Martellus Bennett’s very public absence means to him.
“More reps,” the Bears tight end said last week.
Miller, a preseason star last year, has to share those with six other tight ends. The Bears are carrying an astounding eight—counting the Pro Bowler who is sitting home wanting a renegotiated contract.
Bennett’s stance doesn’t figure to change in the final few days of Organized Team Activities this week. It could next week, however, when he faces a fine of about $72,000 if he doesn’t participate in a total of three mandatory minicamp practices.
Bennett is coming off his best season and is due a base salary of $4.9 million this year and $5.085 million next year.
Had the Bears wanted to trade him, they likely would have done so before the draft. The team would struggle to assemble a unit without him. Four of their eight tight ends have never caught a pro pass. The other three — Miller, Dante Rosario and Bear Pascoe — can’t touch Bennett’s career numbers even when by combining their stats.
Miller’s hunch is that Bennett will return — “I think he’ll be here eventually,” he said said — but doesn’t want to inject himself further.
“That’s how it is,” Miller said. “I understand the business side of football. That’s decision he’s gotta make for himself.
“I’ve spoken to him a couple times and he’s doing well. He’s taking care of his side of things. But for me, I’m coming in here every day and working on what I can work on.”
The 30-year-old Miller appreciates how lucky he is just to do that.
The dreaded Lisfranc foot injury he suffered last preseason —one week after catching two touchdowns against the Eagles —could have kept him out for as long as a year. Soft tissue rehab helped to “loosen” up his foot, and he was cleared about a month ago, he said.
“Early on, it takes time to build those football movements back up,” he said. “It takes time to get strength back in my foot. But right now I feel 100 percent.”
Coach John Fox said Miller has “flashed,” but the Bears are monitoring his playing time.
“This time of the year, with 89 guys out there, you’re able to spread those reps,” he said. “But he’s a guy that we heard had a great camp, and some of the things we were able to go back and research.”
Miller hasn’t caught a regular-season pass since 2011, but impressed the Bears’ new brass enough to earn a contract in February, before he was fully recovered.
“I was here off and on throughout my recovery and building a relationship with them,” he said. “And just, kinda, they were feeling me out, I was feeling them out. trying to build a relationship.
“I think when the time came to sign here, I felt comfortable.”
If he can stay healthy — and that’s always been the question — Miller will push for a roster spot, even if, or when, Bennett returns.
He spent the offseason watching footage of his favorite tight ends — including Bennett — and even some of himself. He joked he was used to the recovery process; he went to Injured Reserve in 2011 with a shoulder problem and again in 2012 with a calf injury.
“I’ve done this before, you know what I mean?” he said. “I don’t need a pick-me-up, because I know what I’ve got to do to get through it. I know what it takes to bounce back from something.
“I’ve done it before. That’s just the process I’m in right now.”
Martellus Bennett has posted better career numbers than all seven of the Bears’ other tight ends combined.
Of the seven, only Dante Rosario, Bear Pascoe and Zach Miller have caught an NFL pass.
Here’s a look at the stats: