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Miller will thrive under Haley

If you’re like me, you’re waiting with extreme anticipation to see what new Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley’s new offense will look like in the 2012 season. Will we still throw the ball as much as we have in recent years? Is Haley ushering in a return to balance or is he (gulp!) bringing back three yards and a cloud of dust?

When Haley was asked about Steelers’ Tight End Heath Miller, he beamed like a child receiving a new bike for Christmas. He went on to mention how much he enjoyed the way Miller plays the game. Is this a possible clue into Haley’s plans to make sure the tight end is an integral part of the passing game? If it is, it would be a slight departure from Haley’s previous offenses in Arizona and Kansas City with one slight exception.

In Arizona, Haley had Kurt Warner at quarterback in 2007 and 2008. The top receivers were Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. The top pass catching tight ends in 2007 and 2008 for the Cards were Ben Patrick and Leonard Pope who combined to catch 50 passes total over those two years. This is not what you’d call ‘utilizing the tight end position.’

During Haley’s two plus years in Kansas City, the numbers for tight ends is strikingly different. In 2009, Leonard Pope, who signed with KC from Arizona, and Brad Cottam combined for 29 receptions. Things changed dramatically with arrival of Tony Moeaki who in the 2010 season recorded 47 receptions for 556 yards and three touchdowns. He was the Chiefs second leading receiver in 2010.

If I’m Heath Miller, I think I like what I see. While it’s clear Haley’s use of tight ends is limited for the majority of his time as offensive coordinator and head coach, that year with Moeaki is what really should intrigue Miller and Steelers’ fans in general. Moeaki was really the only athletic tight end Haley has worked with.

Miller is a better all-around tight end than Moeaki so we should expect Haley to take advantage of Heath’s skill set. Under former coordinator Bruce Arians, Miller was at times a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ kind of tight end. Some games, such as the victory over New England in 2011, Miller was a clear target and produced. Other games, especially late in the season, Miller was less effective and blame can be spread around for that. Was it Heath not getting open? Was it Ben not finding him or Arians not taking advantage of him?

One of Miller’s great strengths that I believe really endears him to both Ben and Haley is ability to be a great safety valve when the pocket breaks down. While no one is suggesting that we continue with the ‘playground mentality’ our offense had at times under Arians, it is relieving to know we have a guy like Miller who finds ways to get open when plays break down.

As we get closer to the draft and eventually the OTA’s, look for Haley’s admiration for Miller to become more evident. Heath’s value will increase tri-fold should wide receiver Mike Wallace sign elsewhere in the next few weeks.

Any way you slice it, Miller stands to be a key part of Haley’s offense whether his past offenses reflect that or not. The cheers of “Heeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaatttttthhhhhhhhh” will not go away anytime soon nor will his ability to get open and move the chains in 2012.

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