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Steelers veteran tight end Miller thriving after missing last offseason

| Monday, June 9, 2014, 9:50 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end Heath Miller makes a catch during OTA practice Thursday, May 29, 2014, on the South Side.

Ben Roethlisberger is using the Steelers' pre-camp practices to get in rhythm with the receivers who weren't around a year ago.

Martavis Bryant. Lance Moore. Darrius Heyward-Bey. Rob Blanchflower.

Don't forget one more name: Heath Miller.

Miller, long the most-trusted target for Roethlisberger, seems to be enjoying the offseason workouts that move into their third week Tuesday — an uncommon occurrence for a player going into his 10th NFL season.

But rather than feeling drudgery while going through practices that take place three months before the season starts, Miller believes the sessions are good for him and the offense.

For good reason, too — he was healing from a major knee injury a year ago, when he missed all of the major preseason work and didn't return to the lineup until Week 3.

Even after he came back, it took Miller weeks and weeks to again be the receiver he was while making 71 catches in 2012, before he tore his ACL and MCL and injured his PCL against the Bengals on Dec. 23. He needed nearly nine months — and that was a rapid recovery — for his right knee to fully strengthen, and for him to get back into game and practice shape.

It was a long road, but Miller — the top receiving tight end in Steelers' history — believes he's fully back, 18 months since he was injured.

“Last year was the first year I haven't been able to prepare for a season with these (May-June) practices, and they're certainly beneficial — to me, anyway — to be out here to work on your technique,” Miller said.

“It's hard to simulate football activity without doing football.”

It also was more difficult for Roethlisberger to begin last season without Miller and projected starting running back Le'Veon Bell, who missed the first three games of the Steelers' 0-4 start.

iller and Bell should be full-go in an offense that looks deeper than it did at the start of last season, even without receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders.

“It's hard for me to think of another year when we've lost (more) guys, but we've got some new faces — and, from what I've seen, they're more than capable of getting the job done,” Miller said. “It's just a matter of who is going to be out there doing it.”

The one constant in the Steelers' passing game since Miller arrived as a first-round pick in 2005 is how reliable he is as a receiver.

Even while playing in an offense that never emphasized throwing to the tight end, Miller has 466 catches — the fourth-most among all NFL tight ends over the past nine seasons. He has made those catches while being targeted only 652 times — or nearly 500 times fewer than 13-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez during that span.

Miller, who turns 32 in October, doesn't think his knee operation will have any impact on this season or the rest of his career.

While he didn't look like himself until the second half of last season, he still finished with 58 catches, the third-most of his career.

“Certainly, if you play the game long enough, there aren't many guys who come through it without major injuries,” Miller said. “It's just something that I've had to work to overcome, and I'm just looking forward now.”

So is Roethlisberger.

“I've always said that Heath is the best all-around tight end in the league,” he said.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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