Friday, March 8, 2013

The Steelers Will Miss Heath Miller More Than Some May Think

by Jayden Matthews

With free agency set to start on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers have several players who could be leaving. Wide receiver Mike Wallace is looking to get a huge payday in this market and some Steelers fans believe this will hurt the team's offense. While it may, we at If it Ain’t Steel have said more than once that "speed kills," but the fact of the matter is that it can also be replaced. What a lot of people are overlooking is that there is something and someone not so easily replaced, considering that the Steelers may be without unsung hero on offense, that being tight end Heath Miller.

Miller sustained a season-ending knee injury in the fourth quarter of the Bengals game in week 16. My heart was in my throat as I watched him being helped off the field, and I knew the season was done. With Mr. Dependable done for the season, I knew the offense would suffer. As expected, the Steelers lost the game and then missed the playoffs finishing with an 8-8 record. Miller isn’t on pace to return by the start of the season and will start out on the Reserve PUP list, because his injury is worse than the typical. In fact, it is one of the worst a football player can have, as he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and damaged the posterior cruciate ligament (the ACL, MCL and PCL). The PCL, being that it must heal on its own, will take longer. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert somewhat confirmed our initial fears when he said that it was "uncertain" when Miller will return. This will be a larger blow, in my opinion, than the loss of Wallace.

Miller was named to the Pro Bowl this season and was voted the team’s MVP, and rightfully so. With all the issues of dropped passes and fumbles, he was the only offensive player with significant playing time who did not have a fumble. He led the team in receptions with 71 (out of 101 targets), seven more than Wallace (out of 119 targets). He also tied Wallace for the lead in touchdowns with eight. Again, though, with no fumbles. He was the only true consistent piece on an offense that was three games without its starting quarterback, a less-than-effective running back-by-committee and receivers that frankly didn’t produce to their potential. Before Ben Roethlisberger's injury, he and Miller were on a roll, and when Big Ben did get injured, Miller was the one constant that could bail out Uncle Charlie Batch.

Since Miller doesn’t put up Madden-like numbers, many overlook him and what he does for the team. He and his intangibles will surely be missed. When the line was riddled with injuries yet again this past season, Miller provided that extra block that was needed to free the running backs. He was also the bail out for Big Ben in the passing game, or the block needed to help protect him. No, he isn’t going to burn you down the field with blazing speed, but when he gets open and gets the ball in his hands he moves the chains in his own way.

He is very under appreciated as he isn’t considered by enough as one of the best tight ends in the NFL. He isn’t compared to the Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates or Rob Gronkowski types, but, then, he does more than just catch the ball. He is one of the best "true", or "all around", tight ends in the NFL and what he does for the Steelers offense will be missed. They will suffer from the loss of his blocking ability, quiet leadership and being open in those clutch moments. Even if he is only gone those first six games, they will feel the loss. You can’t just pull a guy off the streets and plug him in expecting him to give the team what Miller does. If that was the case, this wouldn’t even be a discussion. I don’t think there is a tight end out there that can do it.

Miller is a quiet guy and he doesn’t showboat on the field, but you know he has impacted a game when you hear the resounding roar of “HEEEEAAATTTHHHH!!!" Steelers fans love this guy for what he does for the team. Even fans sitting at home watching on t.v. do it. Admit it, you do the Heath cheer, don't you? I know I do. He rarely does interviews, but when he does, he never is an all about "me", he’s all about the team. He doesn’t care about stats or what records he breaks with the Steelers, he just plays the game and plays it well. That is why I call him the unsung hero. He never gets the praise he rightfully deserves.

His being voted team MVP was very well deserved, and, as stated earlier, he was the only consistent player on the Steelers offense. He was also finally named to the Pro Bowl after eight seasons. The ironic thing being the timing - because of the injury he was forced had to miss it.

I am hopeful that he will return this season. The Steelers offense should be able to manage to hold it together in his absence and win some games. Even without Wallace, I believe they can weather the storm of Miller's absence. Then, when he is able to return, this could be one of those stories for the ages: The Unsung Hero returns and the Steelers offense go on a roll.

I am realistic in that they need some other pieces and I believe they will address them this offseason. I, unlike other Steelers fans, am not throwing in the towel on this season. I am well aware its going to be tough and hard road but if any team can do it this team can. They have to do it, and make it worth his returning.