A few hours before the Chicago Bears took the field for their Monday night game last week in San Diego, tight end Zach Miller sent out this tweet.
Then this happened.
He would add another touchdown later in the game to help the Bears to their second straight win, and all of a sudden, Zach Miller is a popular guy in Chicago. Fantasy team owners have been adding him left and right, and along with Jeremy Langford, he’s become a prime target in a Bears offense that is suddenly firing on all cylinders. But who is Zach Miller? Where did this guy come from?
The answer is a very small town in Nebraska. Miller was a multi-sport athlete at Bishop Neumann High School in Wahoo, but don’t let the small town school make you think that he wasn’t a solid athlete. In addition to winning two state titles, he earned honorable mention all-state honors in basketball. As a football player, he won two additional state titles and was named to the all-state team his senior year as a quarterback. That’s right. The guy making these big catches started out as a quarterback. In that all-state year, he threw for 1, 200 yards and ran for 980 more. However, he didn’t have the big schools knocking down his door offering scholarships, so he decided to walk on for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. When that didn’t work out for him, he moved to Division II to play for The University of Nebraska Omaha, whose football team doesn’t even exist anymore.
Nevertheless, he starred there from 2005-2008, and was selected in the sixth round of the 209 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was actually ex-Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice who fought hard to get Miller to Jacksonville. He really liked Miller’s athleticism, and he had strong pre-draft numbers for a big guy.
Knowing he wouldn’t make it as a quarterback, Miller transitioned to tight end, and had a decent couple of years in Jacksonville. He played in 29 of 32 games and had 41 catches for 428 yards. He wasn’t lighting up the league, but he was learning a new position, and was poised for a strong 2011 season. Unfortunately, after four games, he dislocated a shoulder which would end his season and start a long string of injuries that would derail his career for four years. In a 2012 exhibition game, he partially tore his Achilles tendon and a calf muscle, so there goes that season, and he was subsequently released. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked him up in 2013, but after a concussion in a preseason game, he was once again out of a job. The Chicago Bears were next in line for his services, and finally healthy, he had a nice preseason effort in 2014 against the Eagles, going for 68 yards and two touchdowns. In the very next game, he injured his foot and was lost for the season. Now that’s a string of bad luck, but Miller kept working and was determined to get back.
“I didn’t want to give up, didn’t believe it was over, and I just wanted to work through it and grind through it. I knew that if I could get back healthy, I knew I could produce.”
The Bears decided to stick with Miller for the 2015 season, signing him to a one-year extension. Yet, through the first seven games, he had a total of three catches for 35 yards. Even that was a win for him, as he hadn’t played in a regular season game since 2011. Then that Monday night happened. After one catch for -2 yards, that amazing one-handed grab that sealed the win for Chicago made him an overnight sensation, but got him to a place he knew he could get to. After a great performance against the Rams (5 receptions, 107 yards, 2 TD), Miller has put himself in a position to be a key player in the second half of the season, and he’s certainly got the support of his quarterback, Jay Cutler.
“As soon as he got here, you could just tell this guy knows how to play football, he knows how to run routes. I’ve always liked throwing to Zach. He’s one of those easy guys who you know where he’s going to be.”
And where will Zach Miller be this Sunday against the Denver Broncos? Bears fans are hoping he’ll be in the end zone a couple of more times, but no matter what happens the rest of the way, he’s just happy to be in Chicago.
“Marketability wasn’t high, ” Miller said. “… But it was Phil Emery was the GM at the time. He was a guy that liked me when I was coming out, when he was in Kansas City. I was thankful that he gave me an opportunity and really thankful for Ryan [Pace] to do the same thing after a significant injury after last preseason.”
Off of the football field, he seems to be just a regular guy. He spends as much time as he can with his wife and two children, plays the guitar, and even let it slip in a recent interview with WCIU that he’s a fan of Taylor Swift (no, seriously), and he even cuts his own hair to save money. Zach Miller is a family first kind of guy who knows that he’s lucky to be on the football field, and is taking advantage of what may be his last opportunity. Let’s hope he can stay on the field and keep it rolling.