Steelers notebook: Heath Miller completely healthy again
September 6, 2014 12:00 AM
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Heath Miller scores a touchdown after catching a pass in front of Ravens cornerback Corey Graham during the fourth quarter of the Steelers 23-20 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in 2012.
By Ray Fittipaldo/ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steelers fans have never needed much of an excuse to scream Heath Miller’s name. They pretty much do it every time he catches a pass. It’s as much a part of the Heinz Field experience as “Renegade.”
Still, those fans found themselves howling “Heeee-ath” a lot less last season than what they had been accustomed. Nine months after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right knee, Miller played in 14 games for the Steelers, but it was obvious he was not the same player that earned a reputation as the league’s best all-around tight end over the course of his first eight seasons.
Miller’s receptions dipped from a career-high 71 in 2012 to 58 last season. One season after scoring eight touchdowns, he caught just one. He averaged a career-low 10.2 yards per reception and had some crucial drops.
The Steelers are confident those statistics will rise again. They signed him to a contract extension through the 2016 season. His teammates have no doubt he’ll return to form, either.
“I can see a big difference in Heath this year and Heath last year,” said backup tight end Matt Spaeth, who has played alongside Miller for six seasons. “Fortunately, I never had to go through that, but I can’t imagine it’s easy. I’m sure for him and everyone who goes through it, it’s frustrating. He wanted to be his best self and he gave us the best version of him, but it just wasn’t the same.”
The Miller who takes the field Sunday for the opener against the Cleveland Browns will resemble the one that earned team MVP honors in 2012, Spaeth said.
“Everything about him is better, his overall speed, his burst, coming in and out of his breaks. He just looks real good now,” Spaeth said.
Miller’s MVP season in 2012 coincided with Todd Haley’s first season as offensive coordinator. Haley utilized Miller more than previous coordinators Bruce Arians and Ken Whisenhunt ever had.
In addition to those career-high 71 receptions, he also posted career highs in receiving yards (816) and touchdowns (8).
“Heath is night and day from where he was last year at this time,” Haley said. “He wasn’t even ready to go that first game, and it took awhile to get back to where he was close feeling 100 percent. He’s 100 percent ready to go. I’m excited to about him being out there for us.”
Doctors believe the first year after a major knee injury is the most difficult for athletes. Most athletes feel healthier, have more stability in the repaired knee and have a general sense of normalcy in the second season after surgery.
“I feel really good,” Miller said. “I’m happy about that. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the past. I put my focus and energy on feeling as good as I can for this year. Putting the preparation in and getting myself physical and mentally ready to go. We’re here finally.”
As far as playing out the final years of his contract, Miller said his play and his health will determine if he can play through 2016.
“My mindset is to stay in the moment,” he said. “Hopefully, I can go through this year feeling great and I’m still able to play well. Maybe next year is a no-brainer. And maybe the year after that is a no-brainer. I don’t know. I just try to stay in the moment.”
Veteran receiver Lance Moore, rehabbing a groin injury, has been ruled out for the Browns game. First-year player Justin Brown is expected to take his place as the starting slot receiver Sunday.
“If it’s not frustrating, you’re in the wrong business,” said Moore, who signed as a free agent over the offseason after spending his first eight seasons in New Orleans. “To be in a new place and finally get that fresh start and not be able to be out there, it hurts. If I can’t play this week I’m going to do everything I can to play next week.”
Cornerback Brice McCain, another free-agent acquisition over the offseason, also will miss the game with a groin injury.
Receiver Martavis Bryant (shoulder) is doubtful, center Cody Wallace (finger) is questionable, and Spaeth (hamstring), linebacker Sean Spence (knee) and long snapper Greg Warren (knee) are listed as probable.
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