Second-year WR Anthony Miller told PFW Monday that he’s as puzzled as the rest of us regarding his noticeably small role on offense in Week 1, when he played only 16 snaps while the Bears mustered their worst performance on offense of the Matt Nagy era in a brutal loss to the rival Green Bay Packers.
“My ankle was 100 percent. I was good. I was ready,” said Miller, who returned in full to practice last week for the first time since suffering the ankle sprain on Aug. 10 and told us he expected to be busier after not being listed alongside three Bears on the Week 1 injury report.
"That was frustrating, but not much I can do about that. Just focus on the next week and hopefully I’ll get more opportunities."
Miller’s absence was undoubtedly highlighted by the fact that the Bears were held out of the end zone for the first time in 18 games under Nagy, while their leader in receiving touchdowns last season was a nonfactor in the game plan.
But also magnifying Miller's inactivity was RB Tarik Cohen filling Miller’s inside receiving void by lining up in the slot on 36 of his 46 snaps, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats. Cohen had a game-high 8 catches, attracting more targets (10) than any player Thursday except teammate Allen Robinson. But he also managed only 6.1 yards per catch and didn’t tote the football for only the second time in his career and first with Nagy calling plays.
"I feel like that was good for me and me growing in this offense," Cohen said. "[Opponents] see me in the slot now. It’s also another thing we can throw out there, they won’t know what’s coming and I can be in the backfield, well now they can see me in the slot.
“[It’s] an adjustment that came out a little bit later. Coach Nagy knows my skillset, he knows what I can do, so he throws a lot at me and sees how I respond to it.”
Note Cohen saying that his slot role Thursday wasn't one that's been planned for a while. It could suggest that Nagy isn’t comfortable throwing a lot at Miller, despite the coach saying he liked what he saw from the receiver last week after a lost offseason recovering from shoulder surgery and the ankle costing Miller time in camp.
Remember, only two weeks ago, Nagy’s endorsement of Miller was more tepid, and WR coach Mike Furrey indicated last month that Miller was only "starting to earn" the coaches trust that fellow second-year WR Javon Wims — who played only 21 snaps and drew only two targets — now has after a strong offseason.
“When he’s on the field, he’s a playmaker,” Nagy said last month of Miller. “He can make plays. He’s a weapon for us. But right now, just having him out the last several weeks, we’ve got to make sure he stays inside that playbook and he understands the details of this offense. That’s our focus is making sure he does that. Once you do that in the game, then your volume of plays starts to go up a little bit.”
It goes without saying that Miller’s talents were missed Thursday, when he attracted only one target amid arguably Nagy and Mitch Trubisky’s worst game together with the Bears.
Has Miller had a candid conversation with his coaches regarding what he can do to ensure he isn’t missed again?
“Just small talk but that hasn’t really been my focus,” Miller told us following a pause. “I haven’t been going up to them asking why I didn’t play or didn’t. That’s in their hands. They made the decisions, and if that’s a decision they want to make, that’s something I got to roll with and just be prepared for my opportunity.”
But after the organization's decision to trade a second-rounder to New England to move back into Round 2 a year ago and pluck Miller 51st overall, GM Ryan Pace said the Bears were viewing the Memphis product this season as their first-round pick, which technically went to Oakland in the Khalil Mack heist.
That was before Miller unequivocally showed his toughness and his knack for finding the end zone during a rookie season hampered by the shoulder issues but also some immaturity as he was late for a few meetings, perhaps contributing to his longer period of adjustment on offense.
Add it all up and it appears to be a tricky spot for everyone.
It sounds like Miller can be even more prepared, but until that happens and/or the offense breaks from its doldrums, should the Bears be more willing to endure his growing pains while he’s on the field, where they currently need every playmaker they have?