Making it in the NFL is difficult for anyone, but getting to the highest level as a specialist like Ball State punter Chris Miller is even tougher.
Miller, a Carmel High School graduate from Libertyville spent the weekend auditioning for the Bears in hopes of being signed and invited to training camp in late July. For punters and kickers, the path to an NFL training camp often comes via the tryout route since so few are drafted. Only three punters were taken in the draft and only two place-kickers were selected. It's a struggle to even get to a training camp since the NFL reduced roster sizes from 100 to 80.
Brad Maynard, who like Miller is a Ball State product, is entrenched as the Bears' punter, but Miller knows if he gets to training camp and into a preseason game, it's an audition for every other team in the NFL. Miller and Miami's (Ohio) Jake Richardson were the only punters at the weekend rookie minicamp, and place-kicker Jeff Wolfert was the only kicker.
"The Bears said they're going to bring one specialist (to camp)," Miller said. "It's up in the air and I can only hope for the best."
Odds are the Bears would want an extra punter in camp since Maynard is 35, although he's still going strong. Because of their Ball State connection, Maynard has shared some advice with Miller.
"I've talked to him on the phone a couple times," Miller said. "He just told me to keep focused and 'just do what I do. Go out there every day and perform like you've always done and good things will happen.' "
Miller actually surpassed Maynard's Ball State career record punting average of 44.2 yards, which was third in NCAA history when he graduated in 1996. Miller, a two-time Playboy Preseason All-America pick, finished at 44.8, but he couldn't duplicate Maynard's amazing feat of being named the Mid-America Conference defensive player of the year in '96.
"I don't think anyone has ever done that," Miller said. "And I don't think anyone's going to match that."
Well-adjusted: Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said he was pleased with the performance of all three wide receivers who were drafted last month - Oklahoma's Juaquin Iglesias, Abilene Christian's Johnny Know and Pitt's Derek Kinder.
Knox is taking the biggest step up in class, coming from a Division II program, so Turner was asked if the transition is more difficult for the speedy Knox.
"I don't think that's necessarily the case," Turner said. "From what I saw, he ran routes pretty well (Sunday)."
What about Brett? Coach Lovie Smith was asked for a reaction to the recent release of Brett Favre, and Vikings coach Brad Childress' admission that his team might consider Favre.
"I'm on record as being a Brett Favre fan," Smith said. "He's a great player, so I assume if he is available, teams will try to get him. It's good for our league if players like that are still playing. Right now, I'm trying to get the Bears ready." Smith was then asked if Favre would be good for the NFC North. "Well," he said, "again, right now, we're trying to get the Bears ready."