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Haley: 'That’s not a play everybody makes'

Posted Dec 11, 2015

TEs Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth are both listed as 'probable' for Week 14.

It was with mixed emotions that tight end Heath Miller watched the Steelers steamroll the Colts.

“Weird,” Miller said, “uncomfortable.”

But it wasn’t an altogether unpleasant experience.

“It’s fun to watch when the team plays like that,” Miller continued. “That was exciting to watch. I certainly wish I was a part of it. As a player you always want to be a part of it, but impressive.”

Miller missed Sunday night’s 45-10 victory over Indianapolis with a rib injury.

It was the first time he hadn’t played since the first two weeks of the 2013 season, when a knee injury prevented him from suiting up against Tennessee and at Cincinnati.

The Steelers managed their highest-scoring output of the season and their third-highest total in yards gained (522) against Indianapolis thanks in part to Miller’s replacements.

“I think the guys stepped in and did a good job,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “Jesse James, Matt Spaeth, Will Johnson, they made a couple of plays.

“Obviously when you don’t have a player like Heath it’s a big loss for us in a lot of different ways, even from a leadership standpoint. I thought they made plays when their number was called. They did a good job in the run game. So that’s a good sign.”

James started for the second time this season and caught almost as many passes against the Colts (three) as he had in the three previous games (four), the first three that he’d been an active participant on a game day.

James first broke into the lineup on Nov. 8 against Oakland when Spaeth was unavailable (knee).

This time Spaeth and Jones started in a two-tight ends set, and James wound up playing 67 snaps (91 percent), more than he’d been asked to play and more than he’d been capable of playing previously.

“He has come a long way, but not unlike a lot of young guys that you see,” Haley said. “They have a lot to learn early on and one of the biggest things is just their physical conditioning.

“To me, that’s where he’s made the most growth. You’ve seen his body change already, he’s slimmed down. He’s increased his speed and quickness, his overall ability to run a bunch of reps, whether it’s in practice or in games. Early on, he looked like he was dying on the vine.”

Miller didn’t practice on Wednesday, was limited on Thursday and was a full participant today. He has been listed as probable.

Miller caught a season-high 10 passes for a season-high 105 yards in the Steelers’ 16-10 loss to the Bengals on Nov. 1 at Heinz Field, so a return to the lineup at Paul Brown Stadium might prove especially timely.

But as they prepared for Sunday’s game throughout this week the Steelers at least had a better understanding of what they can expect from James in the event Miller or Spaeth turn up unavailable.

“He made a couple of good plays in the middle of the field, especially the one on the basic cross,” Haley said of James, a rookie fifth-round pick from Penn State. “He had to extend and catch the ball.

“That’s not a play everybody makes or can make.”

It’s now one James is ready, willing and able to execute if necessary.

STATUS REPORT
PROBABLE - TE Heath Miller,TE Matt Spaeth (knee), WR Sammy Coates (illness), CB William Gay (concussion, not injury related), LB James Harrison (not injury related), LB Sean Spence (hamstring), LS Greg Warren (not injury related).