Now that we have completed our look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90-man roster heading into training camp a bit under a month from now, it’s time to take a look back at the team’s 53-man roster from last year’s regular season, for the purpose of revisiting the contributions of the players that are no longer with the team, and whether or not those contributions have been adequately replaced.
Roster turnover is just a natural fact of today’s NFL, which have only become more prominent since the advent of free agency more than two decades ago. It’s very rare for a team to return all 11 starters on one side of the ball from one year to the next, let alone to do so for both the offense and defense.
The Steelers are certainly no exception to that rule, and they figure to have a number of lineup changes from 2015 to 2016, which seems to be increasingly common for them in recent years.
From a long-term, historical, and locker room perspective, there is certainly no greater absence felt in the locker room and on the field than in the void left in the wake of the retirement of tight end Heath Miller, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2005, a Pro Bowler and the greatest to ever play the position in franchise history.
A cornerstone of the team for a full decade and more, Miller’s abilities on the field is said to be only surpassed by his character off the field by those who had the opportunity to know him during his playing career. A quiet leader, he was a tone-setter by simply going about his business without a fuss and committing to every rep in practice.
On the field, he was arguably one of the last truly great two-way tight ends and an iron man to his final season, logging the among the highest percentages of his team’s snap as compared to anybody else at his position, or across all skill positions.
He was Ben Roethlisberger’s security blanket for over a decade, even if the offense was rarely designed to feature him, and in perhaps the lone season in which that was the case, he put up numbers competitive with all of the other glorified tall wide receivers, putting up 71 receptions for 816 yards and eight touchdowns during the 2012 season. That was in 15 games, as he tore his ACL in the penultimate game.
He may not have quite ever been the same since that injury, perhaps a step slower and a touch less consistent in his blocking, but Miller proved to be a quality player to his final snap, even if he and others felt it was time to move on.
Part of the team’s plan to move on is second-year tight end Jesse James, who has shown promise as a dual threat blocker and receiver, though he still has a long way to go. Brought in via free agency was Ladarius Green, a completely different sort of player than Miller, who is more of the receiver type, and represents a significant shift in offensive style.