Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey was rewatching the 2019 season opener, a dreary 10-3 loss to the Packers, and had an irritating thought as he analyzed the sputtering offense.
Where in the world was Anthony Miller? This guy had been the 51st overall pick in 2018 after two 1,400-yard seasons at Memphis, and the Bears were banking on him to be a major part of their passing game. And this was supposed to be the season he put it all together and got serious about his career.
Miller, however, played only 15 snaps against the Packers. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw to him only once. He was absent and remained so until late in the season.
‘‘One of our best players is not on the field,’’ Furrey said. ‘‘And the reason why is because you can’t trust him.’’
That has been the book on Miller through his two-plus years in the organization, and it’s far from the first time someone has said that about him. Coach Matt Nagy didn’t hold back publicly last season, either.
Furrey has theorized that college football came so easily — ‘‘He was allowed to get away with a lot of stuff and his statistics were phenomenal, but that stuff just doesn’t work in the pros,’’ he said — that Miller assumed he would carve up the NFL on talent alone.
Miller is tremendously gifted, as he showed in a five-game stretch late last season in which he had 33 catches for 431 yards and two touchdowns. If he masters all the details, including a thorough grasp of the playbook and a more professional approach the other six days of the week, he’ll be a star.
Furrey thinks that time is now.
‘‘He’s starting to understand defenses and coverages and leverages — that stuff, it’s not just playground,’’ he said of Miller. ‘‘Now everything’s slowing down for him from a route-running standpoint. He gets in meetings, he can respond, he can communicate. He’s not tucking his hat down and [giving] one-word answers.
‘‘He’s trying to learn. He’s dropped the ego of this whole Memphis thing. Now he’s coming here and learning from Allen Robinson, asking Allen Robinson, watching Allen Robinson. . . . If you’re starting to do that stuff, you’re definitely heading in the right direction and starting to grow individually.’’
Furrey thought the same thing last summer, however. Nearly one year ago to the day, he said of Miller: ‘‘I just held my breath, hoping that he was gonna go to the right place [in 2018]. . . . He’s come in now and understands what we’re doing. Now I believe everything’s gonna get better and better for him.’’
That proved to be false hope. Miller’s late flourish wasn’t enough to compensate for barely cracking 200 yards receiving in the first nine games.
Last season, Robinson carried the passing attack alone. Before Miller’s 140-yard outburst on Thanksgiving, Robinson was the only Bears player to reach even 80 yards receiving. He played 94% of the offensive snaps when no other receiver reached 65%. He had close to double Miller’s number of targets, despite both playing all 16 games.
That’s not sustainable, and the Bears showed they realize that this offseason. While Plan A is still for Miller to develop into a fearsome complement to Robinson, the Bears drafted speedy receiver Darnell Mooney, added veteran Ted Ginn and are touting the progress of third-year player Javon Wims.
There are contingencies, but none is as alluring as Miller growing into the player the Bears thought they were drafting.
‘‘We talk about a player’s ability to separate from man coverage and what he can do in the slot — he’s so talented,’’ general manager Ryan Pace said. ‘‘He’s still a young player that’s still trying to learn the offense, gain trust with the quarterback. . . .
‘‘When Anthony knows what he’s doing on offense, he plays so fast and can be such a dynamic part of what we’re doing.’’