Zach Miller spoke to the media at Halas Hall Monday, exactly one year after he sustained a devastating knee injury that nearly cost him his left leg.
The Bears tight end has not yet been cleared to run, but he's pleased with the progress he's made since suffering a dislocated knee and torn popliteal artery while trying to make a touchdown catch 12 months ago against the Saints in New Orleans.
"I don't know if I'm ahead or behind because I don't know the blueprint of this thing," Miller said. "[But] I'm very happy where I'm at. Throughout it, I've made goals just to see if I could attain them. I hit 'em and I feel good where I'm at physically. I've been able to get back in the weight room and start doing some things that at least feel like I'm getting stronger and make me feel better. But I still have a long way to go and I understand that challenge and I'm willing to accept it."
Miller has had nine surgeries on his leg, with the final procedure being performed last January. He knows his situation could have been a lot worse, however; shortly after Miller was injured, Bears medical personnel helped save his leg by quickly diagnosing a vascular issue that required emergency surgery.
As Miller reflects on the last 12 months, he realizes that the ordeal has changed him.
"Perseverance, I've always felt that I've had that, but this is just on another level," Miller said. "Patience for sure, just sitting there for six months and your foot won't move and you're trying to move it. It teaches you a little bit of patience and I guess just the will to keep on fighting. There are a ton of positive things that I've gained out of this thing, and that's just the way I look at it, opposed to all the negative I suppose you could take with it."
Miller traces his positive outlook on life to his childhood.
"I think it's probably just the way I was brought up," he said. "My father has told me from a very young age, his motto was, 'Zach, we're only here for fun.' I have carried that with me for a long time. And then it's just a conscious effort of choosing to be that way. You could go the opposite way. What good does that do? It doesn't do me any good to sit there and dwell on the negative things or the bad stuff. You can find positivity in it. And that's kind of how I choose to do it."
Another source of Miller's positivity is his wife and their three young children.
"My support system at home is unbelievable," he said. "They have continued to back me in any way possible. Days that were no good? They try to pick me up. And the days that were good, they made them even better. We have a lot of fun at home. And throughout this entire process, this whole journey, they've made sacrifices that you can't even really believe. Without them, I'm not here."
Miller would love to eventually resume his NFL career, but his No. 1 goal since he was injured was ensuring that he would be able to do normal activities with his children.
"As much as I wanted to play football and do want to play football, the main thing was, 'Can I enjoy everyday life with my kids? Can I run around in the backyard, throw the football, kick a soccer ball?'" Miller said. "That was the main thing and they're already falling in line. I'm already able to do that, which for me, that's a win. If I get to be able to do that for a very long time, I'll be happy."
Miller is grateful to the Bears for re-signing him in June, even though it was a virtual certainty that he wouldn't play this season. He enjoys being around the team and hopes to one day return to the playing field—even though he knows nothing is promised.
"That's what I'd like to do, but I don't know how that'll play out," he said. "I haven't been told no, I haven't been told yes. That's kind of just a day-to-day thing. I know there'll be a point where I'll be able to decide that. I'm not there yet, so I just continue to work to it, knowing that if I can get it done, that'd be awesome, and if I can't, I'd be willing to accept that fact, that I gave everything I could to get there."