GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23: Tight end Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes a leaping reception over linebacker Daryl Washington #58 of the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter of the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Steelers defeated the Cardinals 32-20. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The talk Thursday seemed to be about reports indicating the tight end could be a big part of offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offense.
That's assuming Haley feels the "focal" points of the offense are the guys throwing and/or moving the ball in a forward (hopefully) direction. Because it's not as if Miller was only a situational player. In fact, one could make the argument he's been the team's offensive MVP the last two years.
A fact unknown by today's "Jimmy Graham is a tight end" thinking fans and media is tight ends are also used to block. In Miller's case, due to the gaunt nature of the Steelers' pass protection units, he was required to block. Things got so bad from a protection standpoint at times the last two years, Miller had to line up in the backfield, which is almost the same as saying "Ok, we know you're going to get in the backfield, so we're surrendering our position on the line and protecting the spot we know our quarterback will be when you get back here."
Miller has been a focal point, just not in a way we're used to seeing on more vertically able teams.
That's just clearing the air, I'm not trying to suggest Haley is unaware of any of that. The recent theory, though, is geared more around getting Miller to release off the line and do what the Vernon Davis's of his position do often; catch the ball. Throw a little balance into the position, have him catch and block, you're looking at a real offensive focus; giving opposing defenses one less thing to focus on.
The Steelers' Week 8 win over New England has been discussed on BTSC so often the W, N and E keys are wearing off my keyboard. Miller's contribution to that victory was an excellent blend of his ability (finding open spots in a porous Patriots zone defense) Roethlisberger's vision and capitalistic approach (never take a loss, always gain something) and quality playcalling (release split receivers deeper, get size advantage mismatches on linebackers in space). It led to Miller's most productive game of the year.
He doesn't need to produce Rob Gronkowski-like numbers. I would argue he doesn't need any more of a visually prominent role. He just needs to be put into routes. Good things happen when Miller is moving down the field.
It sure cools a blitz off. Miller dropping over the top of aggressive, gap-filling linebackers for a grab-and-lean for seven yards is a nice little play. A little chip on the line, followed by a quick turn and release can be good for five yards on first down with a running formation on the field (read: unpredictable production).
More than anything, Miller's consistent release from the line of scrimmage, coupled with a commitment to running in the necessary situations (i.e. 3rd-and-1, times when you're supposed to run) draw eyes toward him. Instead of castling a rook like Miller to a king like Roethlisberger, slash him down the field.
You know, be an offensive offense instead of a defensive one.
Hey, maybe Miller can be thought of on the same level as legends like Jimmy Graham afterall. This new wave idea of balance at the position could pan out.