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Miller looking to top productive rookie year


Anthony MillerĀ is thinking about the future.

In the early days of training camp, young players make mistakes; missed assignments, dropped balls. But don't expect the second-year receiver to get in his own head about it.

"I have a next-play mentality," said Miller. "You might see me out there frustrated after the play, like initially, but I have to get it out of my mind because I have to go out and make the next play."

That might be an apt way to describe Miller's approach to the upcoming season. While Miller's rookie season did not disappoint, with 33 receptions and a team-high seven touchdown catches, a recurring shoulder injury rendered him less effective as the season wore on. Miller underwent surgery shortly after the Bears' season ended.

For Miller, that change alone is a reason for optimism.

"It'll definitely be different because I get to use my hands now," said Miller. "Last year, I really didn't get to use my hands. I was just relying on just having good footwork so I could get open."

While he was able to use his hands to catch the ball, he was forced to avoid contact at the line of scrimmage to keep his shoulder from dislocating. Less than a week away from the first preseason game, Miller said that his shoulder feels good, if not thoroughly recovered. He anticipates he will be at 100 percent by the start of the regular season.

Fortunately for Miller, shoulder injuries are an obstacle he's overcome in the past.

After impressing during his redshirt year as a walk-on at Memphis, Miller injured his other shoulder and missed an entire year. Working his way back, he went on to become the most prolific receiver in school history, by almost any metric.

Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich has seen a marked improvement in Miller during the first week of camp, and it isn't just an improvement in health.

"I think he's really committed to being a technician," said Helfrich, "and not just, 'I'm faster than you,' or 'I can win on the top of the route and go up and get it' or just out-speed somebody or out-quick somebody. He's taken to coaching much more. Right now it feels like, dare I say it, he's starting to mature."

In that regard, team culture has played a significant role. Miller credits his fellow receivers, especially Taylor Gabriel, for showing him the way as a professional.

"Whether it be out here or in the meeting room, he's been in my ear," Miller said. "Allen Robinson has been in my ear. All the veteran guys, we always have conversations on what we can do within each route, how to get better. I've definitely been just soaking that up because it's not too often you get to be in the presence of guys who've had this much success in the league."

Miller has high hopes, not only for himself and the team, but fellow receiver Javon Wims. Wims was also drafted in 2018 and may see an increased role in the upcoming season.

"You can definitely tell Javon's been working," said Miller, "just like I've been working. We've all gotten better within this offense, me and him. You can look forward to a great future between us."

After surprising experts last year, the Bears enter the season with high expectations. One might question how young players like Miller will adjust to the new situation.

Miller rejects the premise.

"We knew we were going to be good last year," said Miller. "It snuck up on a lot of people, but it didn't sneak up on us because we prepared the way we were supposed to."

For Miller, it's all about the next play and the next season.