LATROBE, Pa. (AP) – Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called retired tight end Heath Miller the best teammate he ever had.
Roethlisberger doesn’t expect anyone in the current group to imitate the most-decorated tight end in franchise history.
“I think the key is that they don’t need to try and be Heath Miller,” said Roethlisberger, who wore Miller’s No. 83 jersey as a tribute on the first day of training camp. “They have to make sure they don’t get too anxious. They’re out there trying to be the best on every play. Right now, they’re doing some really good things. I’m excited to see what they can do moving forward.”
Miller retired shortly after the Steelers’ January playoff loss against Denver. The team signed 6-foot-6 tight end Ladarius Green, who spent four seasons in San Diego and set single-season career highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2015 behind All-Pro Antonio Gates. Green started training camp with the Steelers on the physically unable to perform list, still recovering from surgery on an injured ankle that ended his 2015 season.
“With surgery, you never know what to expect,” said Green, who added that doctors repaired a tendon and inserted plates into his ankle. “I’m just trying to take it day-by-day and get back as quick as I can.”
Jesse James, the Steelers’ 2015 fifth-round pick, is in his second season, but he’s the only tight end who spent time with the team in training camp last year. David Johnson played the previous two seasons in San Diego, but now he’s back with the Steelers, where he spent the first four years of his career. Xavier Grimble was on the team’s practice squad in 2015.
James sees Miller’s retirement as an opportunity for an expanded role.
“It’s huge for me,” James said. “Last year, I played in place of him once or twice. There’s a lot of snaps open and my goal is to take up as many as I can.”
A slimmed-down James lost weight during the offseason. He’s taking snaps with the first-team offense early in training camp and playing with confidence.
“Last year at this time I wasn’t stepping into the huddle with (Roethlisberger) until we got into the season,” James said.
“From that standpoint it’s huge. The team knows what they can expect from me and that’s my goal going through camp, to make sure I’m on the same page with Ben and the offense.”
James appeared in eight games last season, making two starts. He caught eight passes for 56 yards and a touchdown in his first career game. That’s when James realized he could make an impact as a tight end in the NFL.
“I didn’t prove much going into that game,” James said. “But I was able to have a good game blocking and catching and score that touchdown. I feel good about where I’m at and what I need to do to prepare for the season.”
Green already has experience playing behind a franchise tight end in Gates.
“You can’t replace those types of guys,” Green said. “I learned that lesson awhile ago. They’re too special. You just try to do your best.”
Green’s unique combination of size and speed gives the Steelers a downfield weapon that can create matchup problems for opposing defenses, which excites Roethlisberger.
Green can’t wait to work with the Steelers’ franchise quarterback, too. And he knows he doesn’t have to step in and imitate Miller.
“(Gates) and Heath are the same,” Green said. “They’re two special guys at this position. I couldn’t try to be like (Gates) and I can’t try to be like Heath.”
NOTES: The Steelers will practice in pads for the first time at training camp on Sunday. … The team delayed the start of Saturday’s practice by an hour because of heavy rains that passed through the area. S Shamarko Thomas missed practice with an illness.
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