LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers may not have expected to miss Heath Miller this much

With Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth gone, the Steelers are having trouble finding a security blanket for QB Ben Roethlisberger

LATROBE -- Two offensive players wore No. 83 for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their first practice of training camp, and neither of those players was Heath Miller.

In fact, one of those two players was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"I know we have a wide receiver wearing 83," Roethlisberger said of undrafted rookie Canaan Severin. "I don't think anyone should be wearing it right now. But I wanted to wear it today hoping maybe he would appear out of somewhere and come out and play a little bit."

It's worked twice before for Roethlisberger, who wore Max Starks' 78 and ended a camp holdout, and two years ago he wore Brett Keisel's No. 99 before Keisel was brought back by the team for his final season.

But Miller, the great tight end, won't be coming back. He retired in February and is enjoying the good life with his family.

The Steelers, meanwhile, appear to be in a state of chaos at the position. To wit:

* Matt Spaeth, the other veteran last season, the so-called blocking tight end opposite Miller, didn't pass his physical and was released before camp.

* Ladarius Green, the expensive free agent, is still recovering from post-season ankle surgery and is on the PUP list.

Xavier Grimble was carted from the field during the first camp practice Thursday, but Mike Tomlin said he thinks it was only because of a cramp.

Left to finish practice Thursday were second-year man Jesse James, retread David Johnson, late-spring rookie signee Paul Lang and Spaeth's replacement, Mandel Dixon, a rookie out of Tulsa.

"I think the key," said Roethlisberger, "and I've reiterated to them and I'll continue to do that, is that they don't need to try and be Heath Miller. That's not what we're trying to do. Just go be the best Jesse you can be, the best D.J., Xavier, whatever it is."

Roethlisberger sensed that determination from the opening scrimmage series Thursday. His first pass in the flat whistled past James, who hadn't turned his head and was scolded by the quarterback. The next pass, to Grimble, was caught, and fumbled.

Grimble later left and James was the No. 1 man with Johnson the blocker and Long the move tight end when three were used during the run-heavy scrimmage.

That made James the leader of the group.

"He's doing some really good things," Roethlisberger said. "They just have to make sure they don't get too anxious. They're out there kind of trying to make every play and trying to do it, be the best on every single play."

Tomlin was asked for his opinion of James, last year's fifth-round draft pick who caught eight passes in the regular season and a 22-yarder in the playoff game at Denver.

"I'll let you know in about six weeks or so," Tomlin said.

But the reporter pressed.

"He's highly conditioned," Tomlin said. "That's a great place to start."

Of course, the tight end position can be saved by the return to health of Green. The 6-6, 240-pounder, who signed a $20 million contract with the Steelers based on 77 catches in four seasons with San Diego, looked much better running on the side than he had last spring. Perhaps Green's potential as a deep threat can come to fruition once he returns.

"I'm excited to see what he can do," said Roethlisberger. "I've heard a lot of things. I enjoy talking to him, was kind of picking his brain on some things, but would love to get him out here so hopefully it'll happen soon."

It can't happen soon enough for Roethlisberger.

NOTES -- Roethlisberger practiced in a knee brace but said he doesn't need it, that he's checking whether "it doesn't hinder any movements. If it doesn't bother me than I might wear it (during the season) as a precaution." ... RB Le'Veon Bell didn't wear a knee brace while practicing Thursday. He looked sharp and strong through his cuts as he recovers from last year's knee injury. ... Sixth-round draft pick Travis Feeney appears to have recovered sufficiently from a sports hernia that kept him out of spring practices. Because 38-year-old James Harrison is being allowed to work at a slower pace, Feeney was given several reps as an outside linebacker behind Jarvis Jones on the right side.


Steel City Insider Top Stories