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Steelers Heath Miller cautious in setting expectations in his return

Steelers tight end and 2012 team MVP Heath Miller doesn't think a realistic expectation for him in his return to the field for the first time since Week 16 is playing at the level he was before he tore his ACL. But just about anything he can provide will benefit the Steelers' anemic offense.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH -- Some say, such as Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, to not expect tight end Heath Miller to step out of a phone booth with a cape on.

There also are those who believe it can't hurt the Steelers' anemic, 31st-ranked offense if Miller returns this week just short of nine months after he had surgery on his right knee to repair ligament damage.

Miller practiced Friday for the third straight day as a full-time participant and is expected to play when the Steelers (0-2) play host to the Chicago Bears (2-0) Sunday night at 8:30 at Heinz Field. Miller is skeptical as well.

"Whenever I'm able to play, I think it's unrealistic to think I'm going to come back in midseason form,'' Miller said Friday after practice. "I haven't played football since last December, so I've been out for a while. With the rules now, you have one day of pads per week. That's not training camp, by any means.

"So, it'll be a work in progress. (And) after another day of practice, we'll evaluate it and go from there. Friday is the last chance to show what you can do. So, as I've said, we'll see how it reacts tomorrow and go from there. ... It seems longer than nine months, for sure.

"But Dr. (James) Bradley told me from the start that everybody's different to the point that you can't control how your body heals or how your body reacts,'' Miller added. "Obviously, we've seen other guys come back quicker and play very well, while others take a little longer.''

Miller led the Steelers with 71 catches and eight touchdowns before the knee injury in the second-to-last regular-season game last year, so the winless Steelers' punchless offense could use that midseason Miller. Still, it has to be encouraging with how well Miller has looked and feels.

"I felt pretty good,'' Miller said. "I think I had some positive days this week, so we'll evaluate how I felt and how the coaches think I did. And we'll make a decision based on that. ... I can let them know how I feel, but the decision won't be made until Coach sits down with the training staff.

"It will be based on how they think I look and feel. I can probably tell them that I feel good, but if they don't think I can be productive I won't be out there. So, we'll see how I feel tomorrow and base it on the week's worth. I'm excited. Obviously, it's been a long time, sitting and watching.''

After three straight days of hard practices with extra work afterward, one-on-one blocking against defensive linemen and linebackers, it's a good bet that Miller will be in the starting lineup. Make no mistake, he's ready to go.

"I'm close to the end, so that's the hardest part, I guess, figuring out when you're ready to go,'' Miller added. "But, I'm getting close, and I know it's sooner, rather than later. I would want to be out there. With a good knee, I want to be out there, but we'll see how I feel tomorrow after a week's work.

"It's hard to simulate all the work that you get on the practice field over and over, so it's not easy to jump back into things. So, like I've said, we'll see how I feel tomorrow and go from there.''

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