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Bears TE Zach Miller: Man of mystery’s history

Updated: August 14, 2014 3:25PM

Zach Miller’s two-touchdown game against the Eagles in the Bears’ preseason opener last week elicited typical August excitement and two obvious questions: Who is Zach Miller? And where did he come from?

The 6-5, 236-pound tight end came to the Bears cloaked in anonymity. Even some people who claim to know who he is actually don’t — they’re thinking of the other Zach Miller, the former Pro Bowl tight end with the Raiders now with the Seahawks.

The Bears’ Zach Miller is a former sixth-round draft pick (2009) who played two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but has not played since Week 4 of the 2011 season because of injuries. The Jaguars cut him in 2012 after he suffered a torn pectoral muscle. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut him last August after he played in only one of the first three preseason games.

Finally healthy — knock on wood — after spending most of the last three years working out, rehabbing and changing his diet, Miller is cautious and excited about the prospects of re-establishing himself as an NFL player.

“I feel like I’m starting all over again. It almost feels like my rookie year,” said Miller, who had six receptions for 68 yards in the preseason opener, including a 10-yard touchdown from Jay Cutler and a 12-yard touchdown from Jordan Palmer. “It’s been a long two years for me — injury wise, being off the field. It’s like I’ve got a clean slate, starting over with a great franchise and great opportunity.”

In an offense loaded with skill-position threats and a proven offensive line, Miller, 29, is an intriguing prospect as NFL castoffs go. A good athlete who rushed for 3,122 yards and 50 touchdowns as a dual-threat quarterback at Nebraska-Omaha and ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at his pro day, Miller converted to tight end in the NFL and was a big-play threat when he was healthy. As a rookie in 2009, Miller turned a short pass from David Garrard into a 62-yard gain. The following year he scored on a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass from Garrard. The Jaguars also used him on end-around plays.

For what it’s worth, the two pass plays of 50-plus yards are as many as the Bears have had from their tight ends in the last 15 years. In fact, since 2009, only four tight ends have had more than Miller — Vernon Davis (8), Jimmy Graham (4), Jason Witten (3) and Rob Gronkowski (3).

But since Garrard fizzled in Jacksonville, Miller was in stagnant offenses (27th in passing in 2010, 32nd in 2011) with unproven quarterbacks — Blaine Gabbert, Trent Edwards, Luke McCown and Todd Bouman. And then came the injuries — a concussion at the end of the 2010 season; then knee, foot and shoulder injuries in 2011 and the torn pectoral muscle in 2012.

Now he’s healthy and in an offense that was eighth in the NFL in total yards and second in points last season and ready to take another step in Marc Trestman’s second season.

“Timing is everything,” Miller said. “[But] I don’t want to go there yet. I’ve still got a lot of work to do. That was only one game in the preseason. I’m back nose-to-the-grindstone. Back to work and keep on rolling.”

After his standout performance in the preseason game, Miller was catching everything in sight in practice. But Miller still has to prove he can block well enough to make the team. And he still has to prove he can stay healthy — a factor Trestman alluded to when asked about Miller this week.

“We’re not going to anoint him at this point in time,” Trestman said. “We want to get him through training camp healthy and allow him hopefully to perform throughout the preseason as he’s been doing. And then we’ll see where we are.

“But he’s got a great skillset for running routes and catching the football. He did a good job [Tuesday] in some of the run blocking as well. He’s performing well. He’s competing. We’re happy where he is right now.”

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