Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called him the best tight end in the game, a sentiment echoed throughout the locker room.
However, Heath Miller cautions it will take some time before he resembles the player who led the Steelers in receptions in 2012 before tearing ligaments in his right knee in a loss to Cincinnati in December.
The three-time Pro Bowler practiced 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. While the ever cautious Miller remained vague on whether he’s ready to go, he allowed he’s “a work in progress.”
“Whenever I’m able to play, I think it’s unrealistic to think I’m going to come back in midseason form,” Miller said. “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.”
Miller led the Steelers with 71 catches and eight touchdowns before the knee injury in the second-to-last regular-season game last year. The Steelers haven’t looked the same through a winless preseason and two feeble losses to Tennessee and Cincinnati. Having Miller’s familiar No. 83 out there will certainly produce a level of comfort, though coach Mike Tomlin insists “we are not expecting Heath to step out of a phone booth with a cape on.”
Still, Miller is encouraged about the possibility of helping the Steelers avoid their first 0-3 start since 1986. The knee has responded well to the increased workload and barring any last-second setback he will run out of the tunnel on Sunday.
“So, we’ll see how I feel and base it on the week’s work,” Miller said. “I’m excited. Obviously, it’s been a long time, sitting and watching.”
Even if it hasn’t been pleasant. Pittsburgh has managed just two touchdowns in two games, and the production from the tight end position has been largely nonexistent. Second-year player David Paulson broke loose for a long gain Monday against the Bengals but fumbled inside the Cincinnati 20 to blunt some early momentum.
“I’m getting close, and I know it’s sooner, rather than later,” Miller said.
Miller isn’t the only offensive weapon nearing a return.
Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, who hasn’t played since spraining his right foot in a preseason game against Washington on Aug. 19, practiced for the second straight day. While Bell is likely still at least a week away, he’s pleased with his progress.
“I really can’t complain about my work out there,” Bell said. “I really exceeded what I thought I was going to do out there today. Once I got going and got loose, I was able to perform the way I wanted to.”
After speaking to Tomlin, Bell noted he’s basically day-to-day and needs to get back into game shape.
Notes: Bell was listed as questionable on the team’s official injury list. Cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) is out for his second straight game, while Miller, cornerback Curtis Brown (illness), outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (heel), defensive end Brett Keisel (calf) and nose tackle Steve McLendon (hamstring) are probable. ... Despite the 2-0 record, the Bears have only scored four more points than they have allowed (55-51).