When Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey was asked last week about Anthony Miller’s sudden spate of production late last season — five games in which he caught 33 passes for 431 yards, including 100-yard games against the Lions and Packers — Furrey pointed to Miller’s maturation as an NFL receiver who finally understood that it takes more than talent to succeed at this level.
“It’s just his continuing growth to understand what it takes off the field and how he’s gotta prepare during the week to be able to be successful,” Furrey said. “I really believe he’s learned that.”
Miller’s take on the same subject was 100 percent Anthony Miller. You gotta love this guy.
“I think I just started getting more opportunities to catch the ball,” he said. “I think when I get a chance to get my hands on it, I can be something special.”
Never change, Anthony Miller. Well, check that — the 25-year-old needs to continue to mature into the role of a productive NFL wide receiver, learning the nuances of being a pro on and off the field. But there’s another part of Miller that just needs to keep being Anthony Miller — brash, confident and a little bit in-your-face.
The Bears’ offense is in dire need of a potent complement to Allen Robinson after Robinson dominated the wide receiver production in 2019 — 48.3 percent of the receptions (98), 47.6 percent of the yards (1,147) and 50 percent of the touchdowns (seven).
With 2019 fourth-round draft pick Riley Ridley, veteran Ted Ginn, Javon Wims and 2020 fifth-round draft pick Darnell Mooney, the Bears feel they have plenty of candidates to fill that role. But the 5-11, 199-pound Miller — whom the Bears traded into the second round in 2018 to acquire with the 51st overall pick — still is at the top of the list.
He had 52 receptions for 656 yards and two touchdowns last season — most of it in the second half before suffering a shoulder injury in the season finale against the Vikings.
Healthy again entering training camp, Miller is preparing like he’s ready to take the giant leap expected of him. And for the record, while Miller isn’t quite as enthusiastic about the whole maturity/personal growth narrative, he endorses it and gets it.
“When [Furrey] says, ‘This isn’t the playground anymore,’ he’s saying I have more responsibility this year within the offense, and I’m ready to take that role,” Miller said. “I’m ready for any challenge he throws my way.
“I don’t want any M-A’s [missed assignments]. I want to be perfect on the field. I want to do each and every play right and to the best of my ability. So I just want to have a smooth year as far as knowing what I’m supposed to do.”
The challenge for Miller is to grow up — and still be himself. He recently became a father, which figures to help the maturity process. But this is still the guy who told us how awesome he is when he was drafted.
“I’m more than a receiver,” he said. “But I have all the capabilities of a receiver. I can run, catch the ball, my YAC [yards after catch], I would call it a 10 out of 10. I have great hands, and I’m also physical, which a lot of people don’t know about me. My passion for the game is just unmatched, especially at the position I play.”
That attitude often is part of the package for NFL wide receivers — the catalyst for some, the ruin of others. Miller is at an early crossroads, trying to straddle that fine line that leads to stardom. He knows it’s up to him to find the right balance. In the NFL, you have to learn the game to be the man.
“When I was drafted, I was just thinking of the game as just going out there and playing, not really paying attention to the depth of my route or the [smallest] details of this game. I was really just going out there and playing,” Miller said.
“But when you really understand the game and the concepts of the play and what kind of defense is back there, then it puts you on another level. And I think this year I’ve gained a lot of knowledge, and I’ve been working pretty hard — so I can’t wait to see the result.”