The Pittsburgh Steelers lost tight end Heath Miller to a season-ending knee injury last year in the Week 16 game against the Cincinnati Bengals and general manager Kevin Colbert indicated Thursday at the NFL combine that the eight year veteran might not be ready by the start of the 2013 season.
"In my mind, an ACL injury late in the year, I still don’t believe a player is 100 percent until a (calendar) year is up," Colbert said. "They may play before that, but whether they’re 100 percent or not, I don’t know. In my mind if you get something from a player before one year, that’s a bonus."
Before being injured Miller was on pace to break his career high in receptions. He did, however, catch 71 passes for 816 yards and 8 touchdowns, with the latter to stats being career highs for him. He earned a Pro Bowl nod for his 2012 performance, but of course had to bow out due to being injured.
It is almost certain that Miller will miss all of the offseason mini camps and start training camp off on the ACTIVE PUP list. Where it goes from there is too hard to speculate this far out.
With Miller down the Steelers are left with David Paulson, one of their four seventh-round draft picks from last April, Jamie McCoy and Zack Pianalto as tight ends currently under contract for next season. Paulson did manage to overtake veteran Leonard Pope on the depth chart early on last season, but the jury is still out on whether or not he can be an every down tight end. McCoy and Pianalto are futures signings that will struggle to just make the 53 man roster as backups.
The Steelers will almost certainly address the tight end position at some point during the upcoming draft, but Colbert said Thursday that Miller\'s status will not make the position need any more of priority over any other position.
"We’ll know more, quite honestly, when we get to April but it’s not going to influence us," Colbert said. He’ll be back at some point, so if we look at a tight end, it could be early, it could be middle, it could be late, I really don’t know. It will depend on what tight end is available, more than Heath Miller’s status as long as we know he will be back, which we know and believe he will be at this point."
Colbert did, however, say on Thursday that the tight end position in the draft is once again thin due to the numbers. Last year there were 10 tight ends drafted with 7 of them going off the board by the end of the fourth round. In 2011 there were 12 tight ends drafted with 8 of them being off the board by the end of the fifth round. If the Steelers want one of the better ones this year, history dictates that they will need to draft one by their fourth pick.
With Pope not expected to return, the Steelers might explore the tight end free agent market, but the lack of available cap space could limit the quality of player that they are looking for.