Steelers Miller Stands Strong Heading into 2015


The Pittsburgh Steelers have a long-lasting tradition of talented Tight Ends on their roster. Randy Grossman and Bennie Cunningham in the 1970’s and ’80’s, Eric Green and Mark Bruener in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and quite possibly their most famous player at the position has continued that legacy for the past decade.

Heath Miller was selected 30th overall in the 2005 NFL draft. The offense needed an upgrade over Jerame Tuman, and also another weapon for franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was coming off a spectacular rookie season.

The selection paid off for the Steelers immediately. He started all but one game he appeared in his rookie season, and has continued to do so in every single game he has played in since.

The two time Pro Bowler is a household name in Pittsburgh. The perfect blend of a blocking and pass receiving tight end, Miller’s dual threat role on offense has made him a dangerous athlete for many years.

It’s no secret Heath is getting up in the years. He’ll be entering his eleventh season in September, and it is wise for Pittsburgh to seek an eventual replacement. The Steelers picked up a possible successor in Jesse James – their fifth round selection.

It was the first time the Steelers selected a tight end before the seventh round since they acquired Matt Spaeth in the third in 2007. It indicated the Steelers were serious about the need for a tight end, instead of the “maybe this guy will pan out” last round gamble.

The 6’7″, 255 pound manimal that is James has the potential to be a starter one day, but it will not be anytime soon. Criticism of Miller’s age and that he may be slowing down have came into question in the past two years, which started with a torn ACL in a week sixteen match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals back in 2012.

He would only miss two games at the beginning of the season in 2013 due to his injury, and would make the full sixteen game regular season in 2014. He has proven he could bounce back effectively from injury, but some are still skeptical.

Miller was scrutinized heavily for his inability to block effectively in the Steelers’ wildcard loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season. The ferocity of the Ravens’ front seven was an issue for everyone on the offensive line that night, not just Miller.

The number of dropped passes last year also was put under a microscope. His target/reception ratio for 2014 was 91/66. That is nearly half of his targets caught. If you compare the percent of his catches in the two years before his injury (69.3%) to the two years after (72.9%), it can be clearly seen that there has been an improvement.

Those who say he is “done” or that “Its time to get younger at the position” obviously do not realize how effective Miller still is. A few bad plays or an errant throw that gets away from him, and everyone is up in arms until he makes another big play.

Heath has never averaged until 10 yards a reception in his career. His 11.5 YPC, 761 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns ranked him seventh in his position last year. He may not be a 1,000 yard receiver or have double digit touchdowns, but he stays reliable in his twilight years.

Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller catches the ball prior to the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Going forward, Miller should not have to be called upon to handle a huge workload in the receiving department. Receivers such as Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and rookie Sammie Coates make up a quartet of young wideouts that will allow Miller to be the “security blanket” player he has always been, being there when Ben has exhausted his options and needs a first down.

The Steelers still have Miller under contract through 2016. Ideally, this would give him two years to mentor Jesse James into becoming the three down tight end he has been for so many seasons. Granted that he stays healthy he will play out the rest of his contract.

Just as it has been with so many other players, it will be tough to finally see him go. Along with Roethlisberger and James Harrison, he is the last of three remaining from the Bill Cowher era that won Super Bowl XL nearly ten years ago.

There is no need to dwell on the inevitable, as we still have at least two more seasons of #83. He will continue to be the playmaker he has been season after season, and could have a surprise in store for us when 2015 finally begins.

No matter if he retires next year or has a career rivaling the length of Tony Gonzalez‘s, the chants of “Heeeeath” will be aplenty when football is finally back again and loud enough from Heinz Field that they can be heard all the way over in Allentown, PA.

Next: Steelers MMQB

More from Still Curtain