LATROBE – The Steelers knew they would be a little thin at tight end until the return of starter Heath Miller at some point this season.
What they didn’t know was that the issue would be exasperated by injuries at what was an already thin position coming into training camp.
With Miller still on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a torn ACL at the end of last season and backups Matt Spaeth and Jamie McCoy also out of action in last Saturday night’s preseason opening loss to the Giants, the Steelers were down to four healthy tight ends.
Included in that group were two players, Michael Palmer and Nick Overbay, who had been signed just days before the game.
Such is life now for NFL teams, who are seeing the trickle-down effect of fewer college teams using a true tight end.
“It’s harder to find fullbacks and tight ends,” said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. “It’s been going on for a little while now. Fullbacks are few and far between. Tight ends are just as hard to find.”
Currently, second-year player David Paulson is the starter at the position, at least until Miller returns.
The Steelers are hopeful that Miller, their team MVP in 2012, will be ready to play sooner rather than later. In fact, they have no plans on placing him on the physically unable to perform list to start the season, which would mean he would not be available for the first six weeks.
“He’s working extremely hard to get back,” said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. “You see him out there running. Hopefully, we’ll get him back at the start of the season.”
The Steelers are also not yet ready to make a determining move with Spaeth, who was re-signed in the offseason after spending the past two seasons with Chicago.
Spaeth suffered a painful Lisfranc injury in his foot last week and had surgery Monday. The prognosis is that he will miss eight to 10 weeks, which would put his possible return somewhere in the middle of the season.
The Steelers could decide to place him in injured reserve, which would end his season, or on injured reserve with a designation to return at some point, which they did last year for rookie guard David DeCastro. However, teams can only use the return designation on one player.
“At this juncture, we will keep him alive and see what the timetable is for him,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “We will get a little more clarity on that over the next couple of weeks.”
In the meantime, the Steelers will continue to move forward with Paulsen as the starter.
“Obviously, we’ve got some guys down at the position that we need to get back,” said Tomlin. “We will when they’re healthy and, meanwhile, we’re focusing on the on the ones that are working and making sure they have the mentality that’s geared toward improvement on a daily basis.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers placed wide receiver Plaxico Burress on injured reserve Tuesday. Burress had surgery Monday, also the day of his 36th birthday, to repair a torn rotator cuff suffered last Thursday in practice. To replace Burress on the roster, the Steelers signed wide receiver Tyler Shaw (6-0, 180), an undrafted rookie free agent from Northwest Missouri State. Shaw was cut by the Arizona Cardinals last week. … The Steelers will return to practice Wednesday at Saint Vincent College. The 3 p.m. practice is open to the public.