December 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller (83) runs after a pass reception as Cincinnati Bengals strong safety Chris Crocker (left) defends during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Cincinnati Bengals won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Gregg Rosenthal NFL.com reported earlier this week (via Gerry Dulac of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) that the Steelers plan to activate Heath Miller from the PUP list prior to Week 1 of the 2013 regular season. While this news is still a bit of a shock, one can infer a couple of things about how the Steelers see their 53-man roster could shake out early this fall.
First, and most importantly, Miller’s rehabilitation is going well enough for him to make a return before Week 7. If Miller was placed on the PUP list, then he would not be able to come back and play until Week 7 according to league rules. Thus, the Steelers’ brass and medical staff at least feel comfortable that Heath will be ready to contribute at some point before the middle of the season.
While the tight end might miss some games, it would be somewhat like Rashard Mendenhall’s situation last year when the then-injured running back was given a roster spot despite the fact that he did not play until Week 4. Like Miller, Mendenhall suffered a torn ACL late during the previous season (2011 against Cleveland in Week 17).
In terms of how the roster shakes out, Miller’s presence will probably force the Steelers to carry two healthy tight ends on their 53-man roster until he returns. The Steelers will likely carry only David Paulson and another backup (probably Michael Palmer due to experience), and I cannot see Mike Tomlin & Co. carrying four tight ends on the roster (including Miller) due to the need for roster spots at other positions (wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker, etc.).
If all goes according to plan and everybody can stay on the field, then Pittsburgh’s running game will receive a huge boost if Matt Spaeth can return from his foot injury at some point during the regular season. Although still somewhat hobbled, the possible triumvirate of Miller, Paulson, and Spaeth would be an enormous upgrade over what the team has healthy at the position currently.
With Miller sidelined however, Pittsburgh must have guys like Will Johnson and Paulson step up as red zone targets during his absence. While I do not expect them to make us forget about Heath, I hope that they can come close to combining to replace Heath in the statistical aggregate inside their opponents’ twenties. Both players have nice sets of hands, so I am intrigued more than anything else to see how they are utilized with Miller hobbled early in the regular season.
While it is a bit of a gamble to use a roster spot on an injured player, Miller is such an instrumental part of Pittsburgh’s offense that if he can return before Week 7 then the Steelers should get him in the lineup as early as possible. Monitoring Miller’s progress will be an important story-line to follow early this year, and I for one hope that the two-time “Pro Bowler” can return to the lineup sooner as opposed to later.
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