When Pittsburgh Steelers’ Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley made his first comments after accepting the job, the first player he mentioned wasn’t Mike Wallace or Ben Roethlisberger. Oddly enough, it was tight end Heath Miller who Haley spoke of in glowing terms.
After the first three games of 2012, it’s easy to see why Haley was so enamored with the talented tight end from the University of Virginia. Miller has 15 receptions for 129 yards and four touchdowns including two last week. His average of 8.6 yards per reception is a statistic that screams of the success of the Steelers on third downs. It also shows how much faith Ben Roethlisberger has in him as well.
One of Miller’s greatest assets has been his durability. Now in his 8th year, Miller has missed just four games over the span of his career which is pretty remarkable for a tight end. He is a tremendous blocker at the point of attack and blocks down-field as well as receiver or tight end in the league.
Statistically speaking, Miller’s best year was 2009 when he hauled in 76 passes for 789 yards and six touchdowns and he is currently on pace to be awfully darn close to those numbers if not beyond this year. The trick now for both Miller and Haley is how to effectively use Miller in the red zone through the rest of the season. Teams will no doubt be keying on him as Roethlisberger’s number one target, especially on play-action inside the five yard line.
What this early success could ultimately do is open up things for receivers and running backs in similar situations. With linebackers and safties locking onto Miller, space is then created for Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown to run slants and crossing routes.
Let’s give credit where credit is due here and that is with Haley. Former coordinator Bruce Arians had many creative formations and play designs but very were never intended to get the ball to Miller. That’s completely changed now under Haley. While Miller has scored his touchdowns from largely goal line sets, he has also been extremely effective in three and four wide sets. As the speedier and more agile receivers clear out, Miller fills in and finds holes in zones. When the coverage is man-to-man, Miller uses his excellent route-running skills to get open just long enough for Roethlisberger to deliver the ball.
Miller is never going to be confused with Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez or even Rob Gronkowski. He doesn’t have their speed or their agility, but he is incredibly smart and is tougher to haul down than any of them. He is also not the main target in the offensive system as the three I mentioned quite often are.
No one accepts their role on the Pittsburgh Steelers better than Heath Miller does. He has been an outstanding professional since coming into the league in 2005 and continues to be a Steelers’ fan favorite. Who else on the team has their own cheer? Heeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatttttttthhhhhhh!!!! Shouts the crowd whether he’s in Heinz Field or on the road.
It certainly should be no surprise that Miller is thriving under Haley and I see no reason why it won’t continue through the rest of the season.