According to Steelers digest editor Bob Labriola, the body of Matt Spaeth needs to be included in the count.
Of the 2 guys who just had surgery, expect Plax to go on IR soon but not Matt Spaeth.— Bob Labriola (@BobLabriola) August 13, 2013
Plaxico Burress was expected to miss the rest of the season with a torn rotator cuff, which would take most of the regular season to heal even with immediate surgical repair; but the perceived depth at his position - Derek Moye, Justin Brown, Markus Wheaton, J.D. Woods - may have eliminated any need to await his recovery as seems to be the case with Spaeth.
Followers of the Steelers are left with several conclusions to jump to. Perhaps Heath Miller is closer to recovery than previously led to believe. Maybe the team believes Spaeth will recover faster than Maurice Jones-Drew and Santonio Holmes did last season.
The Steelers currently have four healthy tight ends participating in training camp: David Paulson, Jamie McCoy, Michael Palmer and Peter Tuitupou. They also have three injured tight ends in Miller, Spaeth and David Johnson. Typically the team keeps three tight ends on their 53-man roster, even with a starting fullback Will Johnson also on the list.
Should Pittsburgh place Spaeth on IR with designation for return, he could come back in Week 9 granted he is fully recovered from lisfranc surgery. Injured Reserve status grants the team a roster exemption to compensate for the absent player. By not placing Spaeth on IR, the team waives their right to such an exemption; meaning the unavailable Spaeth would count against the 53 man limit.
Rumors have placed Miller in a similar situation - being held on the active roster even if not healthy despite options like PUP which would allow a return in Week 7, or IR with return designation. If both rumors hold true, two of the team's typical three would be inactive for the opening of the regular season. How many TEs will the team hold beyond Spaeth and Miller?
The team is already not expected to bring in any more TEs unless injury strikes again. Perhaps if Paulson, McCoy and Palmer can prove capable of handling the load in their stead, the team will change its stance on Miller and Spaeth.