Miller’s Return Restores Depth, Balance At Tight End Position

By Matthew Marczi

With Heath Miller set to make his season debut for the Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow night against the Chicago Bears, it is important to remember to keep one’s expectations in check. Miller himself warned the media that he will not be in mid-season form, and head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear that the veteran Pro Bowl tight end is not about to don his cape just yet and solve all the team’s problems.

Chances are his snaps will be monitored and limited in his first game action back from a torn ACL suffered in December, so the Steelers will still be tied to the likes of David Paulson and David Johnson as far as the bulk of the work at the position is concerned.

It is hard to deny, however, that his mere return is a big lift to the team psyche, and his presence on the field will hopefully motivate his teammates to play their best game for him in his first game back.

Miller being back on the field does not mean that the Steelers can get back to converting half of their first downs and finishing their drives with touchdowns to the big, reliable target. It will not make Ben Roethlisberger and more accurate, nor will it turn Isaac Redman into LeSean McCoy running the outside zone.

But what it should do is restore some balance, depth, and hierarchy at the tight end position, which has clearly sorely been lacking. It is doubtful that anybody believes Paulson or Johnson are capable starters at tight end in this league, and Michael Palmer will likely find himself in street clothes from now on.

But Paulson and Johnson as secondary, complementary pieces in this offense can be effective, and can help the offense run much more smoothly. The Steelers have asked a lot of their pair of former seventh-round selections, perhaps far more of a workload than they are capable of handling consistently.

With Miller back, David Paulson will not be asked to be the anchor in a run blocking scheme very often any more, for example. As Miller works his way back, perhaps he can be asked to do more of what he is comfortable doing, which is to play on the move, both as a receiver and as a blocker. And, perhaps most important of all, Paulson will not be asked to play 56 of the team’s 58 offensive snaps any more.

David Johnson may very well be phased out of the offense slowly but surely as well, as he already played but six snaps this past week. As for Michael Palmer: well, he may very well be looking for a new job as soon as the Steelers are comfortable with where Miller is coming back from his injury.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • daddeeekip

    What I don’t understand is, if you had Palmer on the team. Why didn’t he get some snaps to see if he was a upgrade over Paulson and Johnson?

  • Rob H

    He may not be as fast, or able to cut like he normally does for a while, but at least we’ll have a TE capable of sealing the edge on a running play, and helping out Adams or Gilbert before he releases into his route on passing plays, which could make a big difference.

  • srdan

    Even at 50% he can offer stability and leadership to a young group.

  • Bruce Mastorovich

    Just having someone who, when thrown to, can consistently catch a ball, get a first down and not fumble would be a godsend

  • Randy Neff

    I’m going over on half of the snaps. Wouldn’t surprise me if Tomlin says after the game that Heath played more than we were anticipating. Ben’s completion percentage most definitely goes up with his stud TE on the field.

  • HopalongCassidy

    Miller doesn’t restore “depth” at tight end as he will be the only legitimate tight end on the team when he returns. Paulson is about as much of a tight end as nothing. He can’t block your grandmother. When Spaeth returns, there will be some depth at tight end assuming Miller is still playing.

  • JPDQ

    I just have this sinking feeling that we’re rushing Miller back too soon and expecting too much from his return. He’s got to feel tremendous pressure from not only the fans but the team to lift the offense. I have very minimal expectations of Miller contributing much to our offense. Not to say that he won’t, but I’m keeping my personal expectations low so that someway, somehow, I come out of Sunday night feeling slightly positive about our offense.

    My one and only hope for Heath in this game is that he stays healthy and doesn’t get reinjured. That would be a “win” for me.

  • Bell Cow

    I agree. It feels rushed.

  • Ahmad

    HEEEEEEEEEEEEATH!

  • dgh57

    Heath Miller’s presence along with be good for this offense in that it will help free up our other receivers in the passing game and a vast improvement to Paulson in the blocking/running side of things. So I don’t see Miller having to do to much his 1st couple games back.

  • Mike.H

    When you’re 0-2 and looking anemic — the phrase ” MILLER TIME! ” garners special meaning.

    Perhaps we would’ve been 2-0 with a 3 pt margin victory each had Heath been there.

    SMH… wake up, team.

  • cencalsteeler

    With the run blocking terrible, I wonder why Paulson has been in on so many plays. If your trying to get the run game going, why wouldn’t Johnson and Beachum be in there? Johnson imo, is a waaaay better blocker than Paulson.

  • gene mann

    big mistake rushing him back

  • Christopher Wilkes

    I know. I wasn’t expecting him to come back until the bye week.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Because, that would make sense.