Steelers Fever – Five Reasons Why Heath Miller Will Be The AFC Offensive Rookie Of The Year

Five Reasons Why Heath Miller Will Be The AFC Offensive Rookie Of The Year – By Neal Coolong

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Think I’m crazy? Think the Steelers are crazy for drafting their first-ever pass-catching tight end? Perhaps there is rhyme and reason to their selection of Virginia’s receiving stud Heath Miller.

Fact: While not used as often as he would have liked (or should have been) the absence of Plaxico Burress frees up the sidelines for opposing corners and safeties to pinch toward the middle in an effort to stop the run. A seam route runner will force those in the secondary to respect Pittsburgh’s ability to control the middle depth of the field, thus negating their ability to crowd the box.

Fact: In the past, the Steelers have used that aforementioned philosophy as a decoy more than anything. You didn’t see Burress downfield all that much, and the combination of TE’s Jerame Tuman and Jay Riemersma seemed to be used for misdirection completions in the red zone only.

Enter Miller.

He runs like a deer and is as thick as a Virginia ham. Great hands, great balance. The only real knock on him was a sports hernia injury his last year as a Cavalier, but he was still the top TE in the draft. The comparisons fly; he was a college basketball player (for a little while) like Tony Gonzalez. He was drafted roughly at the same place as Todd Heap. You’re looking at a player who fell down the draft not because of his ability; because of the previous 29 teams’ need. And a flourish of other skill position players at the top of the draft.

This isn’t to say we should break out the champagne after picking up a TE to fill a need not commonly associated with a Super Bowl champion (name me the last offense where the TE was the top passing option for a world champion). He’s more a reliable cog for a young quarterback to have to move the chains on third down (the most vital part of a successful team). Jay Novacek, Brent Jones and Mark Chumura were those types of TE’s for Super Bowl winning teams.

And going into camp in a few days, I’m more than excited about the prospects of No. 83 being seen in their light. Here’s why he’ll keep the OROY in Pittsburgh.

5. Camaraderie.
Ben Roethlisberger and Burress got along famously last year. With Burress out of the picture, Ben’s going to be looking for a passing target in which to connect. Someone with whom to develop a bond. Be honest: Who’s he going to relate to more, Miller (who is his age) or Hines Ward (team captain, league superstar, eight years his elder)? You do the math.

4. Schedule.
Outside of Baltimore (or perhaps I should say just Ed Reed), San Diego and New England, Pittburgh doesn’t face top safety combinations through the course of the year. Covering a 6-foot-5, 260-pound TE that can catch and run is a requisite of the top safeties of the game. You don’t consider Vikings’ SS Corey Chavous one of the best in the league, do you?

3. Run game.
Not taking anything away from Heap and Gonzalez, but it’s not much of a coincidence they play with two of the best running attacks in the game. Once again, it’s a question of the proximity of the safeties from the line of scrimmage. Pittsburgh loved to run three receiver sets last year with a single back and Tuman on the line. Supplant Miller in that situation and you can conceivably run three jet-routes (as outlets) off a play-fake and have Miller burst down the middle. This is easily set up if Pittsburgh is running the ball like they can.

2. Red Zone.
Nothing sticks out on the stats of a TE like touchdowns. While Bill Cowher and offensive coordinator Keith Wisenhunt aren’t from the Mike Holmgren School of TE Red Zone Passing, they have looked Tuman’s way several times off play-actions on two-point conversions and goal line plays. Miller has a quick first step and good leaping ability, the two best traits to have at the goal line.

1. Absence of Burress.
Ward’s catches went way down last season, entirely due to Pittsburgh’s ability to run the ball 61 percent of all plays. This is definitely a power statistic, but at the same time, their philosophy isn’t as much to blow teams out as it is to control the clock. Roethlisberger will be given more parts of the whole offensive package this year, and most of those extra plays are going to be short-to-intermediate routes in the flats to FB Dan Kreider and Miller. Even though Burress amassed all of 35 catches last year, his absence means a stronger effort for a shorter passing game overall. Miller’s yards are going to come with deeper passes, but his yards-after-catch (his best weapon) will come with short passing.

Perhaps Miller can wash the taste of Eric Green out of Pittsburgh’s collective mouth. Maybe Cowher and Wisenhunt can make Heath Miller 2005’s version of Jeremy Shockey – the last TE to earn OROY status.

But in the same breath, as long as he isn’t Kellen Winslow Jr., I’m happy.

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