The Bears are still waiting on wide receiver Anthony Miller’s breakout.
This is the second year in a row that coaches came into a season promising he’d be new and improved after two seasons of holding their “breath hoping that he was gonna go to the right place,” as position coach Mike Furrey put it. They’ve said they couldn’t trust him to know the playbook and be in the right spot, but now he’s past that problem.
Is he, though? Miller’s playing time has dipped from 64% of the snaps last season to 52% through the first four games of this one, and he is consistently playing slightly less than rookie Darnell Mooney.
Bears coach Matt Nagy defended Miller by saying his decline in snaps is due mainly to the Bears playing multiple tight ends more often.
“He’s definitely getting better, week by week, year by year — that part I love,” Nagy said. “I think he’s playing really good football right now.”
That depends on how he defines good.
To Miller’s credit, he had the game-winning touchdown catches against the Lions and Falcons. But he has just nine receptions for 133 yards overall, had an episode with Mitch Trubisky in the opener in which one of them had the play wrong and the ball sailed incomplete in the end zone and, regardless of how Nagy frames it, coaches find playing time for guys who produce.
Without Miller or someone else stepping up, the Bears find themselves again having no consistent receiving option other than Allen Robinson.
Last season, no one but Robinson hit 80 yards receiving in a game until Miller did it on Thanksgiving. This season, Robinson has more than double the yardage per game (82.8) than the next player, Mooney at 36.3.
Miller is supposed to be that clear No. 2, but if he doesn’t get on track, there’s little chance the Bears will be interested in talking about a contract extension going into the final season of his rookie deal. And that would make him another in a string of costly draft misses on offense by general manager Ryan Pace.
After whiffing on wide receiver Kevin White (No. 8 overall), outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (No. 9 overall), quarterback Mitch Trubisky (No. 2 overall) and tight end Adam Shaheen (No. 45 overall) in the first and second rounds, Pace traded a fourth- and second-round pick to the Patriots to take Miller 51st overall.
He was the sixth receiver selected that year and ranks eighth among his peers in yards (1,212), seventh in receptions (94) and fourth in touchdown catches (11).
That’s respectable standing within his class, but Mooney’s overachievement outshines it. He was the 25th receiver picked this year and ranks fifth in catches and seventh in yards so far.