By Christina Rivers
An intense weather event during Christmas day brought freezing rain and snow to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, forcing the majority of practice indoors. Only Shaun Suisham, Drew Butler and Greg Warren spent time outdoors with special teams coach Amos Jones, and that occurred before the remainder of the afternoon practice. Practice was a mixed bag as the Steelers placed three players on the injured reserve list and made adjustments to their roster ahead of their final 2012 NFL regular season game against the Cleveland Browns on December 30.
One of the biggest blows to Pittsburgh’s offense is the fact that tight end Heath Miller, who led the team with 71 receptions for 816 yards, is expected to require surgery due to tendon injuries in his right knee sustained during the game last weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Although Miller was at practice Wednesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said, “Unfortunately his season comes to an end…We understand injuries are a part of the game, but unfortunately it brings his season to a close.” Miller stated he believed the surgery would be held today and said that he would take everything “day-by-day and try to get better…and go from there.”
Some expect that Miller will be named the Steelers’ MVP this season and make the Pro Bowl. When asked about those honors, Miller called the MVP honor “humbling”, but said that making the Pro Bowl is “a nice accolade but obviously it was a disappointing season and we aren’t where we want to be.” Miller now has 39 career receiving touchdowns, setting the record as the most in team history by a tight end.
In addition to Miller, cornerback Ike Taylor and running back Baron Batch were also placed on the reserve/injured list Wednesday. The announcement came as little surprise to most. Taylor injured his right ankle during the Steelers’ win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13 and has missed three consecutive games since that time. Batch broke his arm Sunday against the Bengals and finds himself in a familiar place. The running back missed his rookie season (2011) due to a knee injury, but spent the majority of 2012 on special teams. He scored his first career touchdown in Week 6 as a backup rusher due to injuries that plagued starting running backs. Batch was scheduled for surgery Wednesday.
Because the Steelers have nothing to lose but pride against the Browns, many expect that the team will treat the game much as they do pre-season matchups; allowing the starters to play for a time and then rotating in younger players for experience. Whether that will be the game plan or not has yet to be seen. “It will be our last football game for the 2012 season,” said Coach Tomlin. “We look forward to preparing for it, performing in it, performing well for our fans and finishing on a positive note here at Heinz Field.” Tomlin said the final game is about “personal, individual relationships” between coaches and players and the game of football. He said that he fully expects the team to be competitive against Cleveland.
To bring the roster back up to 53 men, the Steelers signed safety Damon Cromartie-Smith, linebacker Marshall McFadden and tight end Jamie McCoy to the active roster. All three players spent time with the Steelers this season on the practice squad. Defensive back Walter McFadden and wide receiver Bert Reed were added to the practice squad.
After practice, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked about teammates that may be playing their last games as Pittsburgh Steelers. “I don’t like to think negative…You never want to lose anybody and you don’t want to thing about it being the last game,” said Roethlisberger. “I’m going to cherish the time I get with these guys and go forward from there.”
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.