There is only one Heath Miller. Despite fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers confusing No. 81 with No. 83 at Heinz Field, Jesse James, the team's 5th round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, is no Heath, at least not yet. However, James will likely get the opportunity to see the majority of the snaps at Miller's tight end position with Miller suffering from a rib injury which is expected to keep him out of the lineup against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 13.
James has been productive in his limited role his rookie season. After struggling to be activated early in the 2015 season, in his 3 games he has 4 receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown. It took a Matt Spaeth knee injury to open the door for James' playing time, but since then James has shown tremendous improvement as both a pass catcher and a blocker.
If Miller is out for Sunday's game, the Penn State product won't be relegated to a backup role, but will the primary tight end for the Steelers against the Colts. James will have a favorable matchup against a Colts defense which ranks 25th in the NFL in yards allowed (4,267) and 27th in passing yards a game (272.8/game).
The tight end position is an important role within the Steelers' offense for multiple reasons. Unlike most NFL teams, they ask their tight ends to both block and pass, a characteristic which is a dying trend in today's NFL. Although Matt Spaeth will be called upon for specific packages which have him paving the way in the running game, James will be asked to not just catch the football, but also to block both in-line and in space.
Any fans who have watched the Steelers play in the time Miller has been a part of the team know he is one of Ben Roethlisberger's most reliable targets when things break down. The tight end is often the "hot" read for the quarterback when diagnosing the ensuing blitz by the opposition. This task would fall on James in Miller's absence, and his understanding of the offense will truly be tested.
James has been a pleasant surprise from the 2015 draft class, but he will have the opportunity to do more than just be a pleasant surprise Sunday night. He will get the chance to show he is the true heir apparent when Miller decides to hang his cleats up for good. Time will tell if James' role on the team will change after tonight's prime time game, and how he responds to this golden opportunity will likely determine a great deal for the immediate future.