UPDATE: Head Coach Matt Nagy clarified the slot receiver situation with Anthony Miller being sidelined this week:
Nagy did also say the Bears slot WR position is "by committee" right now. Expect different guys, including Bellamy, to get chances. Cohen, Robinson, etc.
— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) September 28, 2018
The rest of our original post is as follows:
So the good news is that wide receiver Anthony Miller won’t need surgery to repair his injured left shoulder (at least, right now), but the Chicago Bears rookie pass-catcher will sit out for the time being.
Sources have told NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport that Miller is OUT for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is otherwise considered week-to-week. In that case, I guess that early Week 5 bye week is well-timed. But before the Bears get to the bye, they’ll need to replace Miller’s presence in the lineup.
Miller played on 55 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in the team’s first two games, leaving a significant snap share that needs to be filled while he is out. Let’s look at some of the candidates who could be in line for an up-tick in playing time while Miller is sidelined.
White was the first draft pick of the Ryan Pace era, but hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing due to injuries that have kept him off the field. A healthy offseason for White helped him make the season-opening roster, but he has played just 26 offensive snaps (or 12 percent) in the first three games of the season. Miller’s absence should bump White up the depth chart and into a bigger role in the offense.
HOWEVER, one hold-up here could be White’s positioning. More than 69 percent of Miller’s snaps have come from out of the slot, a place where he showed flashes and an ability to carve up defenders with precise route-running. White is more of a fit as a boundary receiver, so he might not be the perfect choice to take all of Miller’s snap share (unless there’s some sort of unforseen movement elsewhere).
Bellamy had his best season in 2017 as he came away with 46 targets, 24 catches, and 376 receiving yards – all career highs. And Mitch Trubisky has thrown it well when targeting Bellamy, posting an 87.5 passer rating when throwing to him in 2017. Even though Bellamy has had issues with drops in his past, he also has a knack for creating separation and finding openings in the defense. Bellamy appears to be best positioned to take over for Miller as the “Zebra” receiver in the offense.
Despite a strong showing in the preseason, Wims has spent the first three weeks of the season on the inactive list and has yet to make his regular season debut. With Miller out, the Bears could promote Wims to the active roster and add some receiver depth in a game where points will be at a premium. And even though Wims doesn’t look like a prototypical slot receiver, it’s worth noting that Wims racked up 132 receiving yards out of the slot during the preseason, which was the fourth most for a rookie this summer. Perhaps the big-bodied seventh-rounder operating on the inside could create some matchup advantages for a passing game still looking to find its footing.
Cohen has appeared on just 21.2 percent of the Bears’ passing snaps and it feels that number should see a boost with Miller out with a shoulder injury. Remember, Cohen worked out as a receiver in the offseason and that could help his value in this offense. Should the Bears opt to use Cohen in the passing offense more, we could possibly see an increase in screen plays and snaps from the slot where the team could call on quick pass plays designed to get Cohen the ball in space with blockers ahead of him clearing the way for potential big gains.
Without Miller, the Bears could choose to deploy their tight ends differently in the offense. That could mean more two sets with two tight ends, meaning Burton could be teamed with Dion Sims or Daniel Brown in certain situations and formations. Burton has played on 86.2 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, but hasn’t had the kind of breakthrough game fans have been waiting on. Then again, we had a feeling a slow start for Burton was possible.