Heath Miller, an iron man for the Steelers could miss significant time in 2013. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Heath Miller will have surgery to repair what has been diagnosed as a torn ACL and MCL. That’s another Steeler going down with a knee injury near the end of a season. Knee injuries like this are brutal. They are very difficult to come back from, and have been known to be career enders – just simply because recovery is so long and teams do not want to invest the amount of time and effort to get a player back.
It’s awful to see any player go down with an injury like this. It’s even worse when it’s a Steeler. It’s down right devastating when it’s someone as beloved as Heath Miller, and, well… someone who was so integral to any glimmer of success for the Steelers’ offense this season. As is the tradition with any football player who succumbs to an injury such as this, there is a long road to full recovery ahead. Now the knee jerk reaction would be to search for a free agent during the off season and pay up for a person who could start now. Or, the other option would be to draft a top rookie who could also start now. For the Steelers, neither one of those options would be ideal, and could quite frankly, send a ripple effect that the organization would be reeling from for years.
Heath has been an Iron Man for the Steelers since he was first drafted in 2005. Out of 127 games, Heath has started/played in 124. For a guy who plays as physically as he does and performs in role that he has on the offense, that’s quite a feat. He pounds out the blocks and lowers the shoulder after ever catch he nabs. It’s hard to find that kind of quality. Finding a player like this in the draft or in FA would be costly to the Steelers and derail them of what will be the process of rebuilding this defense and reinforcing the offense. I seriously doubt that GM Kevin Colbert has been scouting any TE’s lately. Choosing to use a pick on a TE or spend big bucks for a player with Heath’s caliber will more than likely prevent them from moving in a significant direction in the linebacker, safety, and defensive line positions. It’s that much of a game changer. But, I don’t think the team needs to be that drastic…. yet. NFL fans have seen two recent knee injury/return from knee injuries to use as a comparison as to how Miller’s situation might pan out.
Most notably, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson sustained almost the same exact injury as our dear Heath Miller. He sustained that injury late last season and was thought to be shelved for a long time. Not only did AP start in Week 1, he came ‘this close’ to breaking the single season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson back in 1984. (I say ‘this close’ because, even though he’s been tearing it up week after week, I doubt he will get over 280 yards on Sunday). There are several things playing into Peterson’s amazing comeback: skill, fortitude, and heart. Peterson’s natural skill has not been compromised from this injury. He knows when to cut and has great field vision. That you don’t lose after an injury like this. The combination of his fortitude (now proven) and his heart (always evident) has gotten him to this point in the 2012 season. Physically he is built to recover, we’ve seen that now 16 weeks into the season. His heart has taken him the extra distance to get the fullest recovery he can – which turns out to be 100% (or better???).
On the other side of this coin there is Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall suffered an ACL tear at the end of last season and took a long time to recover. He did not play in a game until Week 5, was out from Weeks 7-10, was back for two weeks, and then out again for another two. He came back last week and had limited action against the Bengals. Just like Peterson, there are three things that attributed to Mendenhall’s less than desired comeback: skill, fortitude, and heart. Mendenhall has always been questionable in the skill set. His dancing ‘happy feet’ at the line of scrimmage has left him in some precarious spots and left him with little or no gains on numerous run plays. He has (had) speed, but did not use it often by not being able to decidedly bounce outside quickly enough. We’ve witnessed now that perhaps physically he is not built to sustain that kind of injury and recover 100%. That just happens sometimes – the body gets broken and doesn’t fully recover. We’ve also been able to witness the lack of heart Mendenhall has when it comes to playing football for the Steelers – nothing more blaring as an example as his suspension a few weeks ago. All of these factors have left him vulnerable in a contract year and more than likely shopping for another team with just 45 carries, 163 yards, and a 3.6 average in 2012. Honestly, I would not be surprised if Mendenhall is done for good in the NFL. However, some lower level team desperate for a running back might just take a chance on him.
Miller has the chance to fall somewhere between Mendenhall and Peterson. More than likely, it will be a heavy lean on the Peterson’meter because Miller has a much larger advantage than Mendenhall did in those three key areas: skill, fortitude, and heart. Miller is one of the best players at his position. He is incredibly underrated in the league, and I don’t need to tell anyone in Steeler Nation just how awesome this guy really is. We’ve seen with his style of play that he can take a huge punishment week after week and keep going. He’s a big guy and is built to recover from stuff like his knee injury. And lastly, Miller has a ton of heart. There is no question down after down, game after game, season after season that this guy loves what he does, and he loves playing for the Steelers. Those three things quite possibly could drive him back to a full 100% recovery from such a brutal injury.
Will he excel like Peterson has since his own return? Maybe not that magnificently, but you can expect Miller to be back in 2013 starting and racking up numbers like he did in 2012. The question then becomes, ‘When?’ That answer is still lodged in the murkiness of scopes, rest, and training. But, I think that the Steelers will have some sense as to where he is in his recovery progress before the draft nears. That gives them 4 months to assess where they are with Heath. I really don’t think the Steelers will spend an early draft pick on Miller, and I certainly don’t expect them to try and pick up a free agent. There’s no FA in the league this offseason who can meet the level of Miller – at that is the litmus they need to compare any player.
No no, my friends of Steeler Nation. Rest easy this offseason. Heath Miller will be back in 2013 lining up on that line of scrimmage…. right where he belongs.