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Zach Miller back again, ready to face biggest challenge with Bears

BOURBONNAIS — Another year, the same old challenge for Zach Miller.

“Be healthy,” the Bears’ tight end said. “I don’t think ability-wise there’s any question I can play. And coach [John] Fox always says ability is availability. I’ve got to be healthy. I’ve got to stay healthy and let my game take care of itself.”

Miller opened training camp healthy and a full participant — an accomplishment in itself after missing the last six games of the 2016 season with a broken foot.

The big question is whether he’ll be there at the end. Staying healthy has been the biggest bugaboo in Miller’s interesting eight-year NFL career. He’s played in Week 16 only one time — as a rookie with the Jaguars in 2010, when he caught two touchdown passes in a loss to the Browns.

Bears tight end Zach Miller (86) warms up with teammates on Day 1 of training camp Thursday at Olivet Nazarene. Rookie tight end Adam Shaheen (87) is behind him. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Since then, myriad injuries have side-tracked his career — he didn’t play one regular-season game in 2012-14. But his production when healthy is unquestioned. Miller has 81 receptions for 925 yards (11.4 avg.) and nine touchdowns in 25 games with the Bears in 2015-16.

He makes big plays and clutch plays. In back-to-back weeks in 2015, Miller made a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch with 3:13 left in the fourth quarter to beat the Chargers in San Diego then had an 87-yard touchdown against the Rams, catching a pass flat-footed and the Bears’ 15-yard line and outracing their secondary for 85 yards to spark a victory in St. Louis.

Miller has been resilient if not durable in his NFL career. He keeps coming back for more, with a big smile and a great attitude. The string of injuries has not beaten him down.

“No. I love playing football,” he said. “Freak things happen. I’ve done everything I could injury-prevention-wise. There’s nothing I could to do stop my foot from getting crushed.

“It’s disappointing, but I also know that I can grind through that because I’ve done it before. I still feel I can play at a high level. Now it’s time to show it.”

The Bears are prepared to move on if that doesn’t happen. They signed veteran blocking tight end Dion Sims in free agency, and drafted pass-catching tight end Adam Shaheen from Division II Ashland (Ohio) with the 45th pick in the draft. Last year they were left with Logan Paulsen, Daniel Brown and rookie Ben Braunecker at tight end after Miller was injured.

Miller is well aware of “the business side of football” and is unfazed by the obvious message.

“You guys throw dirt on my grave, that’s fine,” Miller said good-naturedly. “It’s business-as-usual — that’s kind of how it goes. We’ll have a really good room, a lot of talent amongst our group. Coming to work and I’m sure it’ll sort itself out. I’ve been doing that for a long time. It’s nothing new to me.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com