LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller still wants to play professional football, but any talk of a return is premature until Miller proves he can perform a task most people take for granted: run.
Exactly one year has passed since Miller suffered a horrific injury during a road game against the New Orleans Saints that nearly cost him his left leg.
Miller’s rehabilitation from the dislocated knee he sustained in Week 8 of last year has been grueling. The veteran underwent nine different surgical procedures to save and then stabilize his leg.
At the time of the injury, doctors warned Miller that he might never run again.
But speaking on the one-year anniversary of the injury on Monday, Miller hinted that he’s close to reaching that recovery milestone.
“Stay tuned on that one,” Miller said with a smile.
“I don’t know if we’re medically permitted to talk about that, or I guess on these premises, so ask me on the side. That was a personal goal of mine just to have something to aim for. I haven’t been medically cleared yet to run. And I know my body. I know if I can push the envelope and do things, I think that’s more of a they don’t want me to trip and fall and injure something, but I’ve done that and I’m proud of that so it’s been good. It’s good.”
The Bears signed Miller to a one-year split contract in June, and then promptly placed the veteran on the reserve/PUP list in order for Miller to continue strengthening his leg.
“I don’t know how that’ll play out,” Miller said. “I haven’t been told no [you’ll never play again]. 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.”
Miller’s on-field football career may be on hold, but the 34-year-old has been active behind the scenes for the Bears.
“We [routinely] talk through some ways that he can help out, whether it’s video, film, suggestions, whatever it is, any way he can help,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “We just feel like everybody should be a part of this thing and he loves that, he’s good at it, so let’s use him.”
Besides being useful to the Bears, Miller also expressed gratitude that he has recovered to the point where he can spend quality time with his wife and three children.
“That was my No. 1 goal as I spoke with all my doctors. 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?” Miller said. “Can I run around in the backyard, throw the football, and kick a soccer ball? And be able to beat them until they at least get into high school because that's what I'm planning on doing. That was the main thing and, yeah, they're already falling in line. I'm already able to do that, which for me, that's a win. So if I get to be able to do that for a very long time, I'll be happy.”
Miller was rushed to University Medical Center New Orleans on Oct. 29 after he dislocated his left knee while making an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone during Chicago's game against the Saints.
Miller's leg bent awkwardly on the play and he stayed down for several minutes until he was taken off the field on a cart.
Officials later ruled that Miller did not maintain possession of the ball, negating a touchdown.
Doctors performed emergency vascular surgery that night to repair a damaged artery in Miller's left leg that stemmed from the knee dislocation. Miller was hospitalized in New Orleans for eight days before being transported back to Chicago in a medevac jet.
Miller underwent a total of nine surgeries, but he was spotted walking without a limp recently at the Bears' team facility.
Miller, who has battled injuries for much of his career, was one of Chicago's most consistent offensive performers in the John Fox era, catching 101 passes for 1,161 yards and 11 touchdowns over parts of three seasons.
To this day, Miller remains one of the Bears' most popular figures inside the team facility.
“Zach is one of my favorite people I’ve been around in a long time,” Nagy said. “I absolutely love the kid. He’s somebody we feel very fortunate and lucky to have be a part of this family and this organization. The times that we get together and talk, he’s just such a happy-go-lucky guy, good person. I knew what he was as a player, as a tight end and the things that he could do. I love the guy, I really do, and we’re fortunate -- and I know today is the year anniversary and everything for that happening -- but he just does things the right way and he’s good people.”