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Steelers' Miller continues quiet climb

After the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, reporters were as eager to ask to ask Heath Miller about a questionable holding call as they were to ask about the touchdown reception that gave his team the only points it needed.

"It was a hold against me," Miller said of the play the negated a big gain on a Najeh Davenport catch-and-run, "and there's nothing we can do about it now."

The response was typical of Miller. Looking for a spicy soundbite, anything within three time zones of controversial• Keep walking past the third-year pro.

Not surprising, Miller's emergence as one of the best tight ends in the NFL has been rather quiet. That's what happens when you play in an offense that is still predicated on the run and your quotes are so vanilla they ought to come with a bottle of chocolate sauce.

What Miller lacks in style, he certainly makes up for in substance. He is the Steelers' leading receiver (17 receptions) through their first five games, and the 6-foot-5, 256-pounder's yards per catch (14.2) and receiving yards (241) rank second and seventh, respectively, among NFL tight ends.

"I think he's one of the better tight ends," said ESPN analyst Mike Ditka, who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a tight end. "He's a good, all-around football player. He's probably not going to get the recognition that a lot of other tight ends get, but when I watch him play, he deserves it."

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wouldn't argue with that.

Miller has been one of Roethlisberger's favorite targets since the Steelers took the University of Virginia product with the 30th overall pick of the 2005 draft.

The two, who are roommates on the road, looked like they were playing pitch-and-catch against the Seahawks when Roethlisberger saw Miller in single coverage in the second quarter of a scoreless game and zinged a 13-yard touchdown pass to him.

"I truly believe there is a level of comfort with Ben when he is throwing the ball to Heath, and rightfully so," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He is a really good football player, and he is getting better. You almost take him for granted. Sometimes you forget that he is a young guy and emerging in a lot of ways."

Miller is both swift and sure-handed, which makes him a match-up problem for linebackers, and his size makes him difficult for safeties to handle.

Miller may be young -- he turns 25 in less than two weeks -- and quiet, but he has taken on a leadership role at his position.

Making the jump
Heath Miller's production slipped a little in 2006 after a solid rookie season. Through the Steelers' first five games, the tight end is on pace to set career highs in several receiving categories.
Season Rec. Yds. TDs Avg.
2005 39 459 6 11.8
2006 34 393 5 11.6
*2007 45 771 6 14.2
* -- Projection based on first five games
"He's probably helped me the most in my transition," rookie tight end Matt Spaeth said. "I watch him and try to study what he does, and he's very helpful when I ask him questions."

One question that is worth posing about Miller is where he falls among the top tight ends in the NFL.

Just don't ask him.

"I'm just trying to be the best player I can be," Miller said, "and wherever that lands me is where it lands me."

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