The subject of the season opener against the Packers left Bears receiver Anthony Miller at a rare loss for words.
Do you even remember Week 1?
What it was like?
Just wiped it from your memory?
That opening game was a tough one for the Bears. After an offseason, training camp and preseason of Super Bowl hype, the offense laid an egg in a 10-3 loss to the Packers at Soldier Field.
But it was even worse for Miller. Slowed by an ankle injury he suffered early in camp — and an aversion to the nuances of coach Matt Nagy’s offense — he played just 15 snaps and was targeted once without a catch.
It was the beginning of a disappointing first half of the season for Miller. Expected to blossom in his second season after catching 33 passes for 423 yards (12.8 avg.) and seven touchdowns as a rookie, Miller instead was constantly in the doghouse.
In the Bears’ first nine games, the 2018 second-round draft pick from Memphis had just 17 receptions for 218 yards and no touchdowns. He played just 18 snaps against the Eagles in Week 9, with one target and no receptions. He had one catch for seven yards in 32 snaps the following week against the Lions at Soldier Field.
“We all knew Anthony’s potential,” wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “We sat here in Week 1 trying to figure out why he wasn’t on the field a lot. It’s more of the mental part. More of the maturity part than the ability.
“I think he’s been humbled enough . . . to understand that you have to show up every day. You have to prepare. You can’t go out there and play playground on Sundays or you won’t play.”
There’s a point where talented players like Miller have to learn, or edge closer to the NFL abyss.
“In this league, there’s a lot of people on the streets that can play football,” Furrey said. “And if he’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing, he could be one of those guys down the road.”
Miller finally responded and earned the trust of Furrey, Nagy and quarterback Mitch Trubisky. He had nine receptions for 140 yards against the Lions on Thanksgiving. He had three catches for 42 yards against the Cowboys last week, including his first touchdown. In his last four games, Miller has 24 receptions for 313 yards (13.0 avg.)
“The growth he’s done maturity-wise and the way he’s handled himself,” Furrey said, “you’re starting to see what we all were hoping, what we all knew he had. I don’t think he’s done. He still has a lot more room to grow.”
It’s hard to tell if the Bears’ offense has emerged from its season-long funk as Miller has matured, or if it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s probably not a coincidence they’ve grown together. Unlike the steady Allen Robinson, Miller is all about momentum. And it’s going his way right now.
“I feel good,” Miller said. “We all feel good as a unit. Whenever we go out there, we know exactly what we’re supposed to do on every play. Mitch’s confidence is through the roof right now. We’re just taking advantage of that.”
Sunday’s game against the Packers will be a good measurement of the progress the Bears’ offense has made in recent weeks. And even more so for Miller, who was a missing man in Week 1.
“I don’t think I played much in that game,” he said. “But it’s gonna be different this game.”