The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering uncharted waters, as they prepare to open the season without the services of tight end Heath Miller. He will be back eventually, although no one - not even Miller - knows exactly when.
"It's too far away to speculate. One thing I've learned with this thing, it's a long process, it's still going to be a long process. You don't know how your body reacts, is going to react moving forward with the new stuff. It's too early to tell."
It may be too early to tell, but it's never been too early to ask. Ever since Miller was lost against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16 of the 2012 regular season, everyone has wanted to know if he would be back in time for the season opener. While he hasn't ruled it out completely, he doesn't appear very optimistic about it either.
Miller has been present for OTAs, which sparked some optimism among on-lookers as he was navigating the campus without braces or crutches. According to Miller, his surgically repaired ACL and MCL are recovering as well as hoped, and his PCL, which was not operated on, is also on schedule. However, being on schedule does not equate a definable timetable.
"My ultimate goal, the most important goal is to be 100 percent, get this thing better no matter how long it takes. I think that's the overriding goal. I expect to be there."
"It's a long time before training camp starts, so that's a long time to make gains positively or things can happen negatively. It's healing. Dr. Bradley's pleased. Every checkup he's been pleased with the process, so it's on its way."
Miller is correct. Training camp is still looming in the horizon, with the regular season almost four months away; but with an injury of Miller's magnitude, to rush him would only detriment his progress. It's hard to escape memories of last year, when Rashard Mendenhall tried to expedite his own ACL recovery in effort to join the team by opening day. However, he was not ready by Week 1. The Steelers had decided not to place him on the PUP list, which would have ruled him out until Week 6. Instead, they left him on the active roster, only for him to miss the first four games and the team's bye week anyway.
It's impossible to quantify how Mendenhall's situation affected Pittsburgh's running game in the early stages of last season. When a player is unable to go, he is unable to go; but the team must go on without him. The Steelers must make a similar decision in the case of Miller this year, although they may choose a different course of action, this time around.
The team prepared for his possible absence by bringing back veterans Matt Spaeth and David Johnson to work with sophomore David Paulson, as they all patiently wait for Miller to return. If the team comes to the conclusion Miller will definitely not be ready by season's beginning, they could PUP him to focus more intently on his replacements.
The Steelers are wisely putting the player's health first in this case, knowing how important this player is to the team's long-term success. They will do everything they can to support his recovery, how ever long it takes.