PITTSBURGH — Heath Miller, yet to practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers, took the next step in the rehabilitation process after right knee surgery some eight months ago when he was taken off the physically-unable-to-perform list.
The nine-year veteran tight end, who tore three ligaments in his right knee against Cincinnati in December, called the move a step in the right direction. He remains vague about a possible return date: The Steelers open the season at home with Tennessee on Sunday.
“My mindset’s not going to change,” Miller said Monday. “I just want to keep improving each day and keep stacking those good days together. I still want to think short term, so that’s day by day, and keep getting better. That’s brought me to this point, and that will take me to a good point soon.”
He left it up to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to determine when Miller can put the pads on. The two-time Pro Bowler, however, remains steadfast that he has never looked beyond incremental improvement.
“I feel good, and I’ve worked hard to get to this point,” Miller said. “Hopefully, I can take these last few steps. Fortunately, the timing of the injury was pretty good, because I don’t feel like I missed as much as I could have if I would have had to sit and watch through a whole season.”
Still, Miller anticipates a bit of a learning curve after sitting out training camp and each of Pittsburgh’s four exhibition games.
“I did have to miss the preseason, which is never fun when you’re not out there with your team, but I know that I’m closer to the end than the beginning,” Miller said. “So, that’s a good thing.
“As I’ve said all along, and I’m not lying to you guys, I’ve just tried to take each day (and) get better, and I knew if I did that it would be a good outcome, whatever that was.”
Miller’s even-keel approach and tireless work ethic has rubbed off on his teammates, particularly fellow tight end David Johnson. Johnson missed the 2012 season after right knee surgery and was taken off the PUP list several weeks ago, but spent time working alongside Miller as they moved through the final stages of rehabilitation.
“It’s getting a whole lot better, and I think it’s going pretty good,” Johnson said. “I’m just blessed to be back out here and working. It’s been a long road, but it’s feeling good. And every day it’s getting a whole lot better, and my running and blocking is getting a whole lot better every day as well.”
While Johnson’s presence gives the Steelers one of the better blocking tight ends in the league, he is an afterthought in the passing game. Not Miller, who led Pittsburgh with 71 receptions and eight touchdowns last year.
“The team needs Heath,” Johnson said. “I feel like once he gets all the way back he’ll help the team even more. We ran a little bit together, and he’s doing pretty good. So, I think he’ll be all right. And whatever the team needs me to do until he gets back, I’ll be ready for it.”
Miller could follow the path running back Rashard Mendenhall took last season. Mendenhall missed the opening three games and returned after Pittsburgh’s bye week. This season, the Steelers play four games before hitting their bye in early October.
NOTES: The Steelers signed free agent punter Zoltan Mesko on Monday and waived punter Drew Butler. Mesko averaged 44.2 yards per punt in three seasons with New England. ... The Steelers also claimed cornerback Antwon Blake off waivers and released Isaiah Green. ... Fourth-year running back Isaac Redman is the starter for the second straight season. Second-round pick Le’Veon Bell (mid-foot sprain) said he is jogging now, but he likely will be deactivated for the opening game.