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Miller hopes to build off last season

A surprise contributor last season when he led the Bears with five touchdown receptions, tight end Zach Miller expects to be one of the offense's main weapons in 2016.

"I think everyone as a playmaker, you expect to be that," Miller said after a recent OTA practice. "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."

After missing the previous three full seasons primarily due to injuries, Miller had a breakout year in 2015, catching 34 passes for 439 yards.

Last November, he made a stellar one-handed game-winning 25-yard touchdown catch against the Chargers and 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.

Miller took over as the No. 1 tight end late last season after Martellus Bennett was placed on injured reserve and remains in that role this year after the Bears traded Bennett to the New England Patriots in March.


Bears tight end Zach Miller works out during a recent OTA practice at Halas Hall.

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 main difference with Bennett gone is that Miller is now the most experienced player in a tight end room that includes undrafted rookies Ben Braunecker and Joe Sommers. In guiding his young teammates, Miller will draw upon what he learned as a quarterback at Nebraska-Omaha.

"There's a leadership role that I have to embrace and take over, which I'm comfortable doing," Miller said. "I did that kind of my entire career as far as the quarterback position through college and am comfortable in that role. There's definitely a leadership value to it."

Known primarily as a pass-catching tight end, Miller continues to work on his blocking with position coach Frank Smith, a former offensive lineman at Miami (Ohio).

"I'm just more comfortable doing it," Miller said. "Frank has been a huge help as far as just laying the groundwork because … early on in my career there wasn't a point where I was asked to do that much. So I didn't get to fine-tune it at all.

"With Frank and his background of what he knows from the position and o-line work, he's really done a great job marrying my footwork and my hand placement and things like that to where it's … something I can work on and actually be productive in that area."

Focused on improving as an all-around player, Miller has yet to set any personal goals for the 2016 campaign.

"I just want to win," he said. "I'm sure there are certain goals that I'll set when the season gets closer. But at this point, it's just doing what we can do to get better on a daily basis."

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