By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — Within the Bears’ dynamic offense, the tight end position must provide a security blanket. In filling in for the suspended Martellus Bennett on Friday night, Zach Miller showed he belongs.
Miller hauled in six passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns, one from Jay Cutler, the other from Jordan Palmer as Chicago edged Philadelphia, 34-28, in its preseason opener at Soldier Field. More importantly, Miller showed the kind of versatility desired of a Bears tight end, making plays in both short-yardage and long-distance passes.
Even without Bennett on the field, it seems the Bears have a threat at tight end.
“We just want to get him in games and see how he can do,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. “Every time he’s had an opportunity, he’s made a play. We just have to keep progressing him along. He has been a nice addition for the offense, and we’re excited to use him more.”
After two seasons away from the game, Miller was given a shot by Bears general manager Phil Emery, who was looking to add depth at tight end. He was listed as the third-string tight end, behind Dante Rosario, but took the majority of reps with the first-team offense Friday.
Having sure hands from a backup tight end is an important boost for any team, but it’s especially true for the Bears’ offense that relies heavily on the tight end. Miller made his mark with valuable reps.
“It felt good to go out and make plays,” Miller said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”
After a stellar showing, Miller will find many more.
Special teams turns in sub-par showing
For years, a constant with the Bears has been strong, disciplined special teams play. It’s been a staple in Chicago, something counted on. If Friday’s game was an indication of performance from the unit, the Bears have some red flags — and plenty of yellow ones, too.
The Bears endured a blocked field goal in the first quarter, a Josh Huff 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a muffed punt by Micheal Spurlock and two costly penalties. On the bright side, it’s just a preseason game, and there’s plenty of time in training camp to correct these mistakes.
“There are a lot of things that happened special teams-wise that I think (we) can coach from and help get a better evaluation of our players,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.
Kicker Robbie Gould is the only mainstay for the Bears’ special teams, so there are plenty of questions to be answered. Tress Way and Pat O’Donnell were inconsistent with their punts, and there’s still no frontrunner to replace Devin Hester as the team’s return man. None of these individual roles will matter if the other 10 players make mistakes.
Gould’s kick was deflected due to a missed block. Huff was allowed to run untouched to the end zone because of poor lane discipline by the Bears’ kickoff coverage. Penalties are inexcusable, especially after weeks of working on the fundamentals in camp.
The lapses on Huff’s kickoff return for a touchdown stands out as the greatest blunder from the special teams unit. Trestman struggled to summarize the woes.
“A lot of times on the kickoff, there might be one guy not taking care of the edge and losing contain, and that connects to the other 10 guys,” he said.
The Bears will go back to the drawing board in Bourbonnais, looking to fix their flaws from Friday night.
Bears’ O-line depth to be tested
For each NFL team, there’s one shared goal in each preseason game — stay healthy. The Bears weren’t so fortunate on the injury front in Friday’s contest.
Backup center Brian de la Puente left in the second quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return. His left knee was bent backward in a scrum, and he was helped off the field.
“It’s definitely scary,” de la Puente said of the injury. “But it’s part of the game. What I have to do is get back healthy — whatever it might be, whatever the timetable is, that’s going to be my focus.”
De la Puente will undergo an MRI on Saturday to examine the extent of his injury.
“I definitely feel optimistic,” he said.
The Bears were already without Kyle Long (ankle), Jordan Mills (foot) and Eben Britton (hamstring) on the offensive line. Without the versatile de la Puente — who can play both center and guard — the Bears will have to adjust.
The injuries to Long and Mills aren’t expected to hold them out through the start of the season, so the Bears’ starting line remains intact. However, they must rework the depth chart if de la Puente misses an extended period of time.