Confidence is one thing, but Bears need Anthony Miller to be 'all in'

Tarik Cohen reflects on how playing at an HBCU helped him (1:59)

Bears running back Tarik Cohen explains how playing at North Carolina A&T aided his professional career, and he discusses how to help get talent at HBCUs recognized. (1:59)

Third-year Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller does not lack confidence.

“When I get a chance to get my hands on [the football] I can be something special,” Miller, 25, said.

Few debate Miller’s talent. Bears coaches have seen glimpses of Miller’s potential since Chicago drafted Memphis product in the second round in 2018.

As a rookie, Miller led the team with seven touchdown receptions as the Bears won 12 games and their first division title in eight years. Last season, Miller enjoyed a five-week stretch during which he caught 33 passes for 431 yards, including a pair of 100-yard receiving games against Detroit and Green Bay.

However, Miller’s overall NFL body of work still falls into the "modest" category.

Take last season for example. Indeed, Miller had that impressive stretch, but he finished 2019 with 52 receptions (tied for 61st in the NFL), 656 yards (68th in the league) and two touchdowns (tied for 105th) in 16 games.

Health has been a factor. Miller has suffered multiple shoulder dislocations dating back to 2018. He not only underwent surgery in each of the past two offseasons, he has at times been forced wear a harness under his shoulder pads. Many players -- particularly skill position players -- find shoulder harnesses restrictive and uncomfortable.

Of greater concern has been Miller’s overall approach and preparation to being a professional wide receiver.

“When I was drafted, I was just thinking of the game as just going out there and playing,” Miller said. “Not really paying attention to the depth of my route or the most small details of this game. I was just going out there and running and playing. 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 results.”

Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey has questioned Miller’s commitment to his craft.

“It’s not a secret…the first quarter to half of the season last year, I just don’t think from a maturity standpoint, preparation standpoint, that Anthony was 100% all in,” Furrey said. “He still had a 'college' mentality -- that ability was going to allow him to overcome whatever he wanted to overcome in games. As we all know, as you guys have all seen, talent can only get you so far when you get to the pros. You’ve got to start learning the details of what you’re supposed to do, the quarterback has to trust you’ll be where you’re supposed to be, so I just think he was really lacking in those areas. He wasn’t on the field a lot.

“That light went on for Anthony toward the latter half of the season. ... 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 go out, be successful, and allow these things to happen in the game. I really believe he’s learned that. He’s still going to develop. We talked about this all offseason: It’s still a learning curve for him.”

The Bears believe the free-agent arrival of veteran receiver Ted Ginn Jr. -- coupled with the steady presence of dependable No. 1 wideout Allen Robinson -- will help Miller mature.

“That's where we're all excited with how Anthony Miller is going to have more resources than just one guy," Furrey said. "And I think the addition of Ted Ginn is huge for Anthony Miller and his development. As much as we want to say, 'Hey, Anthony, go,' this is still a guy in Year 3. You look at the track-record of guys who have played in the NFL and played wide receiver, Year 3, Year 4, you're still trying to figure some things out. I just think with that addition, it's going to help him grow.”

Added Robinson: “For Anthony, he’s definitely finding his niche with everything and growing and continuing to develop and mature and see different things within the game. Football is a game within a game. You have everything that’s going on between the lines, but you also have before and after, preparing yourself to see different things, what you’re expecting, being able to predict different coverages, different leverages, things like that.

“It’s all a process, and the more snaps you take, the more familiar you get with that. I always say, playing ball is the only way that you can get better and understand more things.”

Miller is a key player for the Bears in 2020. The club released veteran Taylor Gabriel, who entered the last two seasons as Chicago’s No. 2 receiver alongside Robinson. Miller seems best-suited to take over that role as long as he follows the essential guidelines laid out by coaches and teammates.

“Just being a complete pro…I think this is the year that I will be that,” Miller said.