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.