Steelers TE Heath Miller Might Not Be Ready By The Start Of The Season

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.

  • Love Heath, if anyone has the work ethic and mental toughness to make it back from an injury like that, it’s him. Good Luck Heath, we are all pulling for you.

  • SteelSpine

    Any draftpick at any position even half as solid of a draftpick as Heath would be a relief. Cant get more solid of a draftpick than when drafted Heath then was able to say fegettaboutit for 7 years. Hoping for drafpicks anywhere near as solid of bet as that.

    We need an insurance TE for for an additional reason though – to bail out other players:
    – Young money crew was non-dependable, are not big targets, Heath bailed out our passing game when he therefore needed to be more-often a target for Ben last year.
    – Steelers offensive tackles for next season are not above-ave passblocking OTs, Adams is going to start somewhere, so more than some teams we need good blocking TE to help our OT passblock.

  • TheBlitz

    @ Michael Milliron,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Letting Weslye Saunders walk to keep an aging and unproductive Pope on the roster was a huge mistake!

    Drafting a TE early, late, or whatever wouldn’t even be an issue today because Saunders was a good prospect at the position.

    I’m still confused on that one…

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I wish more came out on that. Im with everyone else that Saunders had the potential to be really good. Now we need a vet from FA because we have nothing. Steelers keep shooting themselves in the foot.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    We do have David Johnson but he isnt a starting TE by no means.

  • Tim Barca

    I totally agree on Weslye, he was showing some good signs at the end of that season. Was projected to be a late first / early second rounder. I live in SC and got to watch him a lot, was excited when ther Steelers gave him a chance, and then all of a sudden, he is gone…

  • steeltown

    Pianalto is often injured, McCoy is a camp body and Pope is not expected to be back… Draft a TE in the early-middle Rds please.. Miller could be out the first 6-8weeks for all we know.

    I like Paulson and I like Will Johnson, but we need more depth

  • zyzak

    Weslye Saunders can’t read a playbook. He often “wandered” into other people’s routes

  • Everything Steelers

    I will be working with Heath in the next few weeks…I am sure he will be in a brace, I am wondering if he will be on crutches…

  • mlc43

    The Steelers needed to think about a TE in this draft anyway. The TE class is reasonable this year and someone like Gavin Escobar could be available in the 3rd round or so. Honestly, if the Steelers think they can get by another year with their defense (which I don’t think they can) they could load up on offense this year and get supremely better on that side of the ball.
    Hope Heath gets healthy though…love that guy.

  • Nolrog

    We could use another tight end to compliment the ones we have and replace Heath when he retires.

  • Busforever

    I really love Heath Miller, and I think it could be a good idea to draft a TE early (if a great one is here, I don’t know the TE situation in the draft). He could start as long as Heath need to heal, and when Miller will be back, we could have 2 starting TE. That could be a good thing considering our need at WR. It could be a response for 2 problems, and open some perspectives for our offensive system.

  • Jollyrob68

    It seems like they may be trading back in the first round to get extra pick(s). I’m all for that depending on who has slipped to 17.

  • Tim Barca

    True, and as much as the position has changed in the past couple years, you’d like the front office would embrace that, instead they give away a really talented guy that we practically had fall into our lap.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    The hybrid TE is the single greatest weapon in the NFL today. You get many of the same benefits as drafting a tall WR or a big strong middle of the field WR, combined into one. Plus he can help block.

    Look at Pitta. He has totally transformed Joe Flacco. Any time Joe is in trouble, or needs a 3rd town, or gets in the red zone. What does he do? Just throw it up to the 6’5″ kid with long arms and velcro hands. What a surprise? He caught it. Even though he was covered.

    You want the next Pitta? Look at the kid out of San Diego St. Depending on his combine numbers, I would probably rather draft Gavin Escobar in the 2nd round than just about any other player in this draft. And when Heath comes back you can put them both on the field together because they are complimentary types IMO. 3rd downs. Red zones. Automatic.

  • LucasY59

    I like Ertz and Eifert better than Escobar (dont think they are worth the 17th pick and will be gone by time the Steelers pick again in the 2nd) so Escobar could be the guy in the 2nd (might be a reach, but probably won’t be available if they waited till the 3rd) Totally agree that a pass catching 2nd TE can do alot of things a WR does. Kelce might be a good 3rd rd TE

  • mokhkw

    I can see them bringing in a FA TE after releasing Pope & also addressing the position in the draft in Rounds 4 or 5.

    Dave Thomas, Evan Moore, Travis Beckhum & John Phillips would all seem to be good fits as a No.2 TE who could start for a month before Heath was ready to go ( if that ends up being the case)

  • LouPGH

    I don’t think they “let[]” Saunders go “to keep” Pope. Saunders is athletic, but immature.