Bears tight end Zach Miller is proving that his impressive performance in last Friday night's preseason opener at Soldier Field wasn't a fluke.
After catching two touchdown passes and showing excellent run-after-the-catch ability in a win over the Eagles, the 6-5, 236-pounder has continued to excel in practice.
"Zach had a heck of a day last week," said quarterback Jay Cutler. "He's had a really good camp. These last couple days he's had some really strong performances again."
It's been a long time coming for Miller, whose once-promising career was derailed by injuries. Selected by the Jaguars in the sixth round of the 2009 draft, he was immediately converted to tight end after playing quarterback at Nebraska-Omaha. His only experience at his new position in college came in the Cactus Bowl, a Division II all-star game.
Miller appeared in 33 games with five starts during his first three seasons in Jacksonville, catching 45 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns. He hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2011, however, having spent the 2012 campaign on injured reserve and last year out of football.
"I feel like I'm starting all over again," Miller said. "It almost feels like my rookie year. It's been kind of 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 a great opportunity."
While some consider Miller the surprise of camp, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer isn't among them.
"I think Zach has always been a good player," Kromer said. "But it's a case where he has had injury problems in the past, so he never got to show it on the field. Now he's just getting the ability to show it and we're just glad we have him while that's happening."
Miller is battling for a backup spot behind Martellus Bennett primarily with Matthew Mulligan and Dante Rosario. While it's unclear how many tight ends the Bears will keep on their 53-man roster, Miller prefers to focus on the task at hand instead of his chances of earning a job.
"I try to not play the numbers game; just go out and do the football part and let that take care of itself," he said. "If you play the numbers game and you're wondering 'bubble this' and counting everything, it messes with your mind. If you do that, you're not really focusing on your job."
While Miller is primarily a pass-catching tight end, he's also shown the ability to block.
"We have a good crop of tight ends that can block, and he's one of them," Kromer said. "He'll line up at fullback. He'll line up as a wing. He'll line up in-line. He does some things better than others. But with the threat in the passing game and his ability to block, he's a good weapon."
Coach Marc Trestman has also been impressed with Miller, but isn't ready to hand out any jobs just yet.
"He's done a very good job in his route running," Trestman said. "He's consistently catching the football. He's making an impact certainly. [But] we're not going to anoint him at this point in time. 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 at the end of the day.
"He's got a great skill set for running routes and catching the football. He also did a good job [Tuesday] in some of the run blocking as well. So he's performing well. He's competing. Position battles are day-to-day there at the tight end position. But we're happy where he is right now."