COMMENTARY | Fortunately for the Pittsburgh Steelers, there aren't a whole lot of offseason injury concerns for the team, which is certainly a good thing considering all of the holes that need filled due to retirements, roster cuts and free agency losses . Unfortunately, the one injured player worth monitoring just happens to be their best offensive weapon from 2012, tight end Heath Miller.
Miller, drafted 30th overall in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft out of Virginia, has long been overlooked as one of the most complete tight ends in the league. He finally got to share in some of the national limelight last season, becoming a focal point in first year offensive coordinator Todd Haley's passing attack. Miller had 816 yards receiving last season, a career high, on 71 receptions and scored eight touchdowns, also a career mark. He was named the Steelers MVP, becoming the first Pittsburgh tight end to win the award, and was selected to the 2012 Pro Bowl.
Miller was unable to compete in Honolulu, however, after suffering a severe right knee injury in week 16 of the regular season, tearing both his ACL and MCL. He underwent surgery on December 26, 2012 to repair both ligaments as well as additional damage to his PCL.
Traditionally, recovery time from knee surgery to repair such extensive damage was thought to be one year, minimum. But recent and well-documented cases such as Minnesota Viking's running back Adrian Peterson, back on the field and dominating last season after tearing both of his knee ligaments on December 24, 2011, proof that a committed athlete with top medical care can fully return from such an injury in six to eight months.
Miller seems to be rehabbing at an exceptional rate, as head coach Mike Tomlin said on May 5th that "he is on schedule with his recovery." Two weeks earlier, on April 18th, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told WDVE-FM in Pittsburgh that "Heath is working out and he looks great. He's walking without a limp. From what I saw I think he looked good."
While there is no indication that Miller will take the field by the first week of the regular season, all expectations are that he will definitely be playing at some point in 2013. This is the best case scenario for the Steelers, who will find it very difficult to replace their leading pass catcher from last season. Matt Spaeth was brought back after two seasons in Chicago, but his contributions in the passing game have been negligible throughout his career, with a high of 17 receptions in 2008.
The Pittsburgh receiving core as a group took a big hit this offseason, when Mike Wallace signed a lucrative, long-term contract with the Miami Dolphins. The coaching staff will need to replace this lost production on the outside, and they feel they can do so partially with third round draft pick wide receiver Markus Wheaton.
Miller's production on the inside, however, seems nearly irreplaceable, and so the team is desperate for the tight end's healthy and quick return.
Sheldon Rodgers is a Pittsburgh native and is the third in a fourth generation Black & Gold Family. He has been published in the Butler Eagle, FantasyPharaoh.com, and multiple other newspapers and websites.
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