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Bears' Zach Miller Ready To Make Most Of His Opportunity

By Chris Emma--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Initially, Martellus Bennett was the steady support system next to Zach Miller's stall in the Bears locker room. As Miller worked through unfathomable football fortunes with a smile on his face, Bennett was there for guidance.

Then, Miller put together the kind of season he had long hoped to attain, a 2015 that earned him the spot as a go-to tight end. It was Bennett's spot.

Count this as part of the cruel reality of the NFL business. Miller's success made his buddy Bennett expendable to the team, and a move expected since late in the season came to fruition, with the Bears trading Bennett to to the Patriots.

"The business side of football, you want to stay out of it," Miller said when asked about Bennett. "Obviously, him and I were friends. We got a good relationship. It was sad to see a guy like that, one of your friends, move on to another team. He's going to do great in New England. That's a dangerous duo, with him and Rob Gronkowski. I'm happy for him."

Of course, Miller has plenty of reasons to be happy. The Bears locked Miller into a two-year deal to stay in Chicago and attempt to build upon an eight-game span in the second half of the season that included 31 catches and five touchdowns.

With free agency complete and only the draft ahead, the Bears stand with Miller as their No. 1 tight end and a key piece of the offense. The Rams also showed strong interest in signing Miller, but he wanted to stay with the Bears and further prove his place.

"I've always felt like that's kind of been what my goal was," Miller said. "I'm confident in my abilities to do that. I'm just excited, grateful and happy to be here with this organization. Chicago is where I wanted to be. I'm glad that it worked out."

Saturday saw Miller throw a dart for a first pitch prior to the Cubs game at Wrigley Field, then he and his 4-year-old son, Cash, singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch. Miller was back in Chicago -- a place he longed to stay -- and there to stay for the coming weeks of work.

On Monday, Miller and many Bears begin their offseason workout regiment at Halas Hall, the next step toward 2016. Minicamps begin in five weeks, and training camp will be here in July.

Only a year ago, the Bears were working through bonus camps to accommodate then-new coach John Fox and his coaching staff's arrival in Lake Forest, and Miller was a man fighting for his place on the roster.

Now, this Chicago team is trending upward following a 6-10 season, with the additions of Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, Akiem Hicks and Robert Massie, plus some key re-signings, including on at tight end.

"You look across the board and how we were last year, and we were close, but we got to be able to finish," Miller said. "There were a number of games where we didn't finish well, and it hurt us. But new year, new team. We put some pieces in place where I feel like we've improved. Hopefully, we start out fast and let it take over from there."

Chicago has elevated hopes in 2016. Fox has put his stamp all over this Bears team, and general manager Ryan Pace has put talent in place. The Bears should at least contend and perhaps earn a playoff spot.

One step at a time, though. The Bears have work ahead of them this offseason before fighting for improvements in the regular season. Now a key piece to the puzzle, Miller's ready to go.

"I'm excited abut the season," Miller said. "I'm just really looking forward to getting back and seeing all the guys putting our best foot forward."

Chris Emma covers the Chicago sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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