Is it Miller time?

Heath Miller could become a bigger part of the offense with Hines Ward out of action.

PITTSBURGH – Throughout his first 41 career NFL starts, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had one constant, wide receiver Hines Ward.

But when the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger will play in his first game without Ward to serve as his go-to guy.

Ward will miss only his second career game after having arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this week, leaving Roethlisberger with an inexperienced receiving corps that will include veteran Cedrick Wilson and youngsters Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes.

"It's not Hines on every play," said Roethlisberger. "I always know where he's at because that's the kind of player he is. The rest of the guys, I have all of the confidence in the world in them that they'll step up and continue to do what they're doing."

But Ward's 57 receptions for 786 yards and six touchdown catches have been a big part of the Steelers' passing game this season, representing 24 percent of their completions, 27 percent of their receiving yards and 35 percent of their touchdowns catches.

Ward had missed just one game in his previous nine seasons – Oct. 16 against Jacksonville last year – but Roethlisberger missed that game as well.

"Hines is always that guy who is Mr. Dependable," said Roethlisberger of the four-time Pro Bowl player and Steelers' all-time leading receiver. "You always know where he's at. I've got all the confidence in the world in the rest of those guys, the running backs. We'll use Heath Miller. I'm not worried about it because I know those other guys will step up."

If Roethlisberger does indeed make more use of Miller, the team's top draft choice last season, it would certainly be a popular move with the fan base – one that constantly seems to be begging for the Steelers to throw more to their tight ends.

"I don't think we need to do anything to make up for Hines," said Miller, who has caught 27 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns this season. "Obviously Hines is a big part of our offense, but we're going to stick with what we usually do. We've got some capable guys to step into Hines' spot and the big thing is not to try to overcompensate and have everybody just do their job."

But can the Steelers use Miller in a way similar to that of how other teams use top tight ends such as San Diego's Antonio Gates or Baltimore's Todd Heap, splitting him out wide like a receiver?

"Heath's got good hands and he can run well so I think we'll be able to use him in some four wide stuff and utilize him at the tight end position," said Roethlisberger.

At least Roethlisberger thinking that way is the first step.

"Ben and I have a good rapport," said Miller, who caught 39 passes for 459 yards and six touchdowns last season. "I don't think he'll be looking to me any more or any less with Hines out. He trusts in all of the team's receivers."

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.


Steel City Insider Top Stories