The Steelers lost tight end Heath Miller to an ACL injury in Week 16 of the 2012 season. One of Ben Roethlisberger's favorite targets spent the spring and summer rehabbing, and Miller is currently on the physically-unable-to-perform list. But that's about to change.
The plan, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is to take Miller off the PUP list before the start of the regular season, have him practice for several weeks, then activate him before deciding when he will return to game action. If Miller remains on the PUP list after the Steelers finalize their 53-man roster, he wouldn't be able to return until Week 7.
This is a similar timeframe the team used last year with running back Rashard Mendenhall, who suffered a late-season ACL injury in 2011, but came off the PUP list in training camp before returning to the lineup against the Eagles in Week 4 of the 2012 season.
And like last year, when Mendenhall's absence left a hole in the depth chart, the Steelers are thin at tight end without Miller. Matt Spaeth was signed this offseason, but underwent surgery last week for a broken foot and could miss several months. That leaves second-year player David Paulson atop the depth chart. The seventh-rounder out of Oregon has shown the ability to make tough catches but is often overmatched as a blocker. Behind him are recent roster additions Michael Palmer and Nathan Overbay.
Tight end/H-back David Johnson, meanwhile, tore his ACL during the 2012 preseason but is finally close to returning.
"I should be back in a few weeks," Johnson said via the Post-Gazette. "The rehab, everything, is going real good. I should be back real soon. Right now, I'm just working as hard as I can to get back in and help everyone out."
Another option: The Steelers could feature fullback Will Johnson as an out-of-the-backfield pass catcher. Johnson has 4.4 speed and can create matchup problems for slower linebackers trying to cover him. Alternatively, the offense could go through the young wide receivers: Antonio Brown, Emanuel Sanders and rookie Markus Wheaton.
What all this means, apparently: The Steelers aren't in the market for a veteran pass catcher like, say, AFC North rivals Baltimore, who signed Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark last week. And if all goes well, Miller will be back in the lineup a few weeks after the start of the regular season.
Fun fact: In Miller's two most productive seasons -- 2009 (76 catches, 789 yards, 6 TDs) and 2012 (71/816/8) -- the Steelers missed the playoffs.