Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller may have retired back in the winter of this year, but his presence is still very much felt, and not just because there were not one but two players donning his jersey number out on the practice field yesterday.
Those players, by the way, were rookie wide receiver Canaan Severin, an alumnus of Miller’s school, and the tight end’s longtime friend, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who wore the number 83 yesterday just as an homage and a sign of respect for his old friend, something that he has done every year recently for different players, such as Brett Keisel and Max Starks.
In spite of the fact that the Steelers offense is moving on at the tight end position this year, not only from Miller but from Matt Spaeth as well, however, offensive coordinator Todd Haley is under no delusion that it will be a simple, let alone linear, task.
Haley was on the air yesterday with 93.7 The Fan, talking with gusto about his offense for the 2016 season and his experiences in Latrobe over the years, going all the way back to the time during his childhood when he was a ball boy.
But it seemed fitting that the discussion really kicked off by talking about the elephant no longer in the room, that being Miller, a player that Haley singled out when he first came into the Steelers’ offensive coordinator job as one who was always one of his favorites and who he was particularly excited about being able to coach.
“Obviously one of my favorite players of all time”, Haley said about Miller to begin the conversation. “There’ll probably be a lot of times we’ll miss him even in this process here [in training camp] because just on the field, and off the field especially, [he is] a calming force professional”.
Still, Haley has been in the league a long time and understands that teams deal with such losses every year, and that requires that teams move on with new players. They are doing so this year with the likes of Jesse James, drafted last year, and Ladarius Green, a big free agent signing this year.
“We’ve been going through that all spring”, he said. “I think it’s time for that group. I’m excited about that group. But I do think it’s a group that needs to step up pretty quickly and give everybody confidence that they’re ready to go”.
Replacing a player such as Miller, a guy who was able to do everything and do it all well, is no easy task, and often takes a collective effort, which is what Haley envisions. “It’s not going to be one guy that replaces a Heath Miller”, he said.
“As a group, I think we’re all excited about them, and looking forward to seeing them get to work”, he concluded. The young group also includes 2015 practice squad player Xavier Grimble and returning former Steeler David Johnson. They may all have to make the roster in order to make up for the losses the position has suffered this year.