The Bears are counting on receiver Anthony Miller to pick up this year where he left off last season—and they feel he's never been more equipped to do so.
The 2018 second-round pick from Memphis emerged as a playmaker last November and December. During a five-game span from Weeks 11-15, Miller caught 33 passes for 431 yards and two touchdowns. The stretch included a pair of nine-catch performances with 140 yards against the Lions and 118 yards and one touchdown versus the Packers.
During a recent video call with the media, receivers coach Mike Furrey candidly discussed Miller's evolution in 2019.
"It's not a secret; the first quarter to half of the season last year, I just don't think from a maturity standpoint, preparation standpoint, that Anthony was 100 percent all in," Furrey said. "He still had that college mentality that ability was going to allow him to overcome whatever he wanted to overcome in games.
"As we all know, talent can only get you so far when you get to the pros. You've got to start learning the details of what you're supposed to do, the quarterback's got to trust you'll be where you're supposed to be. I just think he was really lacking in those areas."
Miller acknowledged that learning the nuances of the receiver position helped fuel his success.
"When I was drafted, I was just thinking of the game as just going out there and playing," Miller said Friday during a video call with the media. "Not really paying attention to the depth of my route or the most small details of this game, and I was really just going out there and running and playing. But when you really understand the game and the concepts of the play and what kind of defense is back there, then it puts you on another level."
In the first four games last year, Miller caught only four passes for 28 yards. In the season opener against the Packers, he had no receptions while playing just 15 of 71 offensive snaps (21 percent).
"He wasn't on the field a lot," Furrey said. "You go back and we're watching the Packers game sitting there thinking, 'One of our best players is not on the field, and the reason why is because you can't trust him.' I think that light went on for Anthony toward the latter half of the season. Then all of the sudden, there's a four- or five-game stretch where he's got 100 yards here against Detroit and another 100 yards in Green Bay."
The light that went on for Miller last season continues to shine brightly. In recent interactions on and off the field, Furrey has seen a young receiver who is more mature, responsive and detail-oriented.
"We go out to walk-through and it's not like he's standing around; he's in the walk-through," Furrey said. "He's doing the detail of the routes that we're asking him to do. He's starting to understand defenses and coverages and leverages. That stuff, it's not just playground. We've talked about that the last couple years that it's not playground.
"Now everything's slowing down for him from a route-running standpoint. He gets in meetings, he can respond, he can communicate. He's not tucking his hat down and [giving] one-word answers. It's sentences now. It's responses."
The difference in Miller stems from his desire to improve.
"When [Furrey] says this isn't the playground anymore, he's saying I have more responsibility this year within the offense, and I'm ready to take that role," Miller said. "I'm ready for any challenge he throws my way. I don't want to have any [missed assignments]. I want to be perfect out there on the field. I want to do each and every play right and to the best of my ability. I just want to have a smooth year as far as knowing what I'm supposed to do."
The Bears traded up in the second round of the 2018 draft to select Miller, a highly-productive star at Memphis. The 5-11, 201-pounder had 95 receptions for 1,434 yards and 14 TDs in 2016 and 96 catches for 1,462 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2017. He set school records in all three categories in 2016 and eclipsed the marks in 2017.
As Miller enters his third NFL season, Furrey is emphasizing that the shortcuts he feels the young receiver took in college will only lead to dead ends in the NFL.
"It's just his continuing growth to understand what it takes off the field and how he's got to prepare during the week to be able to go out and be successful and allow these things to happen in the game," Furrey said. "I really believe he's learned that. He's still going to develop. We talked about this all offseason: It's still a learning curve for him. He was allowed to get away with a lot of stuff in college, and his statistics were phenomenal. But that stuff just doesn't work in the pros, and it's a hard transition.
"From a maturity standpoint, from a development standpoint of learning how to be a pro, those are the things he's working on. I think this is the first year that I actually can sense there's an intent there. He gets it. He just had a son here a couple weeks ago. The maturity level, that helps us all grow up. There's a lot of things that factor in his life that have allowed him to do that."