Ten days out from the Bears hosting the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 to kick off the 2019 season, WR Anthony Miller returned to practice Monday for the first time since turning his right ankle on Aug. 10. Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch also returned from a shoulder injury that first sidelined him the same week as Miller.Miller missed six practices and two preseason games with the injury he suffered while attempting to corral a deep pass over Kyle Fuller in a one-on-drill on the penultimate day of work in Bourbonnais. Matt Nagy said Miller and Lynch were limited Monday, when the starters and reserves worked on separate fields after the stretching period to prepare simultaneously for the Tennessee Titans in the preseason finale and the Packers game only seven days later.
Nagy indicated the coaching staff’s focus with Miller, who indicated he expects to be 100% by next Thursday, is ensuring the receiver’s focus on the playbook hasn’t waned during the downtime after the receiver missed the offseason program recovering from shoulder surgery.
“Nothing has changed with him. He’s just got to — when he’s on the field, he’s a playmaker,” Nagy said. “He can make plays. He’s a weapon for us. But we, right now, just having him out the last several weeks, we’ve got to make sure he stays inside that playbook and he understands the details of this offense. That’s our focus is making sure he does that. Once you do that in the game, then your volume of plays starts to go up a little bit.”
After the Bears moved back into Round 2 last year to select Miller with the 51st overall pick, despite “not being myself” as a rookie, the Memphis product managed to grind through a chronic shoulder separation and torn labrum requiring offseason surgery to lead the Bears with seven receiving touchdowns on only 54 targets. The receiving scores trailed only Atlanta Falcons first-rounder Calvin Ridley among all NFL rookie receivers, but Miller totaled only 33 catches, ranking fifth on the Bears offense and tied for 13th among first-year pass catchers.
Much bigger expectations await Miller in Year 2.
At least prior to being slowed by the injury in camp, Miller appeared ticketed for the starting spot opposite Allen Robinson in two-WR formations, moving inside as the slot mismatch in “11” personnel. Miller’s average separation distance of three yards per rookie target trailed only Gabriel’s 3.4 among Chicago’s receivers, illustrating his effectiveness to consistently get open.
However, no Bears pass catcher seemingly was missed more frequently last season by QB Mitch Trubisky, and it remains to be seen how not only Miller’s missed offseason time in his playbook but also refining that QB-WR rapport develops early on after not only Gabriel and Allen Robinson but Wims earned the trust of the Bears coaching staff this summer — an ongoing process for Miller.
“I feel like we got a lot to prove,” Miller said. “This is just me speaking as an offensive player — I think the ‘D’ carried us tremendously last year. I think we need to step it up and play our part. We have all the tools at each and every position. We’re loaded. I just think we got to step it up this year.”
Lynch had been sidelined with a shoulder injury since the Bears returned for the Halas Hall portion of the preseason. Although journeyman James Vaughters has come on in the exhbition games, it’s a big drop-off after Lynch behind Pro Bowlers Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. Moreover, unlike Miller, the Bears already know what to expect from Lynch after the layoff — he missed essentially all of camp and the preseason with a hamstring injury last summer before starting in Week 1 and giving the defense impressive mileage: 16 tackles, 3 sacks, 8 QB hurries and an interception in only 353 snaps.
Clemmings out for year: Veteran OT T.J. Clemmings is headed to I.R. after suffering a season-ending quad injury Saturday night, Nagy confirmed Monday. Clemmings was battling Cornelius Lucas, who’s struggled this summer, to be the top reserve behind starters Charles Leno and Bobby Massie.
But following Clemmings’ injury Saturday, promising UDFA Alex Bars impressed and will continue to get work on the edges after playing inside and outside at Notre Dame.
“Yeah, I think that he did a good job,” Nagy said of Bars’ pinch-hitting duty Saturday at tackle. “… We just want to see him keep growing and see what he can do, but I liked what I saw so we’ll get him going there a little bit more.”
If Bars hadn’t already secured his spot on the roster, the versatility he’s now getting an opportunity to show in games should only help his bid for the 53.