News

Print
RSS

Miller heads to camp as top tight end

Posted Jul 19, 2016

After his breakout season last year, Zach Miller will head to training camp next week as the Bears' undisputed No. 1 tight end.

The following is the fifth of eight position previews in advance of training camp.

OTHER POSITION PREVIEWS: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | O-Line

With Martellus Bennett traded to the New England Patriots in March, Zach Miller will open training camp next week as the Bears' undisputed No. 1 tight end.

Miller proved he's capable of filling that role last season when he emerged as a surprise contributor, catching 34 passes for 439 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns.

The breakout year came after Miller had sat out the previous three full seasons. After appearing in 33 contests with five starts with the Jaguars from 2009-11, he spent the 2012 season on injured reserve with the Jaguars, failed to make the Buccaneers roster in 2013 and landed on injured reserve again with the Bears in 2014.

Last November, Miller made a one-handed game-winning 25-yard touchdown catch against the Chargers and then followed six days later with two TD receptions, including an 87-yarder in a rout of the Rams that was the Bears' longest play from scrimmage last season.

A year later, Miller expects to be one of the Bears' main offensive weapons in 2016.

"I think everyone as a playmaker, you expect to be that," Miller said in May. "I'm going to have an opportunity to show that ability and really kind of just take over from how we left off last season. I showed there were opportunities where I could make plays. That's kind of how I'm going to approach how we begin the year."

Despite heading into training camp as a starter, Miller insists that his mindset won't be any different than it was last summer when he wasn't even a lock to make the 53-man roster.

"There's not much that I'm doing differently off the field, meeting room, practice-wise," Miller said. "I practiced that way even when Marty was here. When he was the No. 1 guy, I was still practicing like I was that guy. Now it's just [about] carrying it over and making it happen in the games."

The depth chart at tight end is wide open behind Miller, with veterans Rob Housler, Khari Lee, Tony Moeaki, Greg Scruggs and Gannon Sinclair and undrafted rookies Ben Braunecker and Joe Sommers all set to compete for roster spots this summer.

Housler signed with the Bears last Dec. 8 and appeared in the final four games, catching three passes for 27 yards. He entered the NFL in 2011 with the Cardinals as a third-round draft pick from Florida Atlantic, appearing in 55 games with 28 starts over four seasons for Arizona and catching 105 passes for 1,133 yards and one touchdown.

Lee entered the NFL last year as an undrafted rookie with the Texans and was traded to the Bears Sept. 2 in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick. He appeared in all 16 games with seven starts, catching one pass for seven yards.

The Bears signed Moeaki June 16 after he participated in the team's minicamp on a tryout basis. He has played in 48 NFL games with 31 starts over five seasons with the Chiefs, Bills, Seahawks and Falcons, catching 91 passes for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns.

Scruggs was switched from defensive end to tight end in May, practicing at his new position during the final week of OTAs and last month's minicamp. The 6-3, 280-pounder appeared in 11 games with the Seahawks as a rookie in 2012, all as a reserve defensive end. He missed the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL, played in just three contests in 2014 and was waived prior to the 2015 campaign. Scruggs signed with the Bears last Dec. 30 and played in the season finale against the Lions, recording three tackles and one sack.

Sinclair signed with the Cardinals last year as an undrafted rookie from Missouri State. He spent last season on the Bears practice squad after being claimed off waivers Sept. 1.

Braunecker was named first-team All-Ivy League last year at Harvard after catching 48 passes for 850 yards and eight touchdowns, while Sommers appeared in 40 games over four seasons at Wisconsin-Oshkosh, catching 87 passes for 1,384 yards and seven TDs.