The Chicago Bears made an interesting move Wednesday morning by bringing veteran offensive tackle Fred Miller out of retirement. Miller started for the Bears at right tackle for three seasons, two of which were fantastic and the last of which was ugly. Last season I led the charge with many other Bears fans in asking Miller to leave town because of his poor play. The steady veteran had suddenly gone from a rock on the line to mistaken-laden liability. Several offensive drives were stalled due to holding and off-sides penalties courtesy of Miller.
Low and behold after resigning with the team for a one-year contract worth $830,000 (he was due $4 million before the Bears cut him in the offseason) he announced he played last year injured. Prior to last season, Miller had surgery on his ankle and had one of his worst years as a player. Yesterday he announced that after taking out bone spurs and leaving cartilage floating around, he was probably only playing at 40 to 50 percent. He added he’ll never be 100 percent after the surgery but he’s at about 90 percent now as opposed to last season.
This comes as a big blow to the Bears, who say this is the first they’ve heard of it, and to Bears fan who wanted answers why the offensive line broke down so quickly. In one season the offensive line of the Bears went from Super Bowl caliber to barely able to get across mid-field. If Miller would have expressed his lingering problem the Bears probably would have kept him and possibly would have taken a different approach in the draft. Instead, the Bears have Chris Williams on the bench indefinately and Fred Miller needs to get back into game shape.
It’s also an interesting move since I thought John St. Clair played admirably at the left tackle position against Dwight Freeney on Sunday. Freeney got a sack on Kyle Orton but St. Clair did a good enough job to keep him away from Matt Forte and Orton most of the game. You know a lineman is doing well when you never hear their name and St. Clair’s name was called only once in that game. However, the Bears have never had and appear never will have confidence in the ability of St. Clair to be a starting tackle.
There’s no doubt the Bears will plug Miller into the offensive line, it’s just a matter of how long it will take to get him in game shape and at what position. Veteran John Tait is currently at right tackle and John St. Clair is playing left tackle. Fred Miller prefers the right tackle position and the last three years Tait offered to play left tackle, even though he much prefers right tackle. When asked earlier in the year about the possibility of Miller returning, Tait didn’t appear happy. Tait has spent all offseason preparing for making the switch from left tackle to right tackle, which he says is no small effort. Lining up on the left or right side of the line involves lining up on the different side of your body and working different muscles in a different, fluid motion to stop defensive ends and linebackers. Tait played almost his entire career with Kansas City as a right tackle and made the switch for the Bears so Miller could play right tackle.
Tait is a good natured player and has always brought a team first attitude. Since Miller is the new guy it would only be fair for him to take the left tackle spot and figure it out. Whether he gets his right tackle spot back depends upon how pissed Tait will be about having to make yet another switch.
As of right now, the Bears have Miller listed as back-up tackle behind St. Clair and Tait. There is no set time table for how long it takes an NFL lineman to get back into game shape. I would be suprised if he sees any game time on Sunday against the Panthers. I would realistically give him 2 or 3 weeks before even considering plugging him into the line. However, in the world of pro football, things have a tendancy to get put into fast forward when coaches want it to happen. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, if Miller can play like the guy he was two years ago when the offensive line could control the ball and the game, he is welcome back. I don’t know if this ankle injury is an excuse or an attempt to apologize to fans for what he knows was a terrible performance last year. Either way, all will be forgiven if he can get back to form.
Left guard Josh Beekman had a quiet day on Sunday, which again is a good thing. However, he’s only in his second year and came out of nowhere to win the spot after spending all last year on the bench and only playing in the season ending game against Green Bay. If Miller gets back into game shape the Bears may opt to plug St. Clair into the left guard spot since he has more experience. It looks like it will be at least another month before the offensive line will have stability but if they keep playing like they did Sunday then it won’t matter.