Miller emerges as Steelers' quiet force

| Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010

Las Vegas offers, among many things, the chance to make just about any sports-related bet, no matter how outrageous it seems.

One thing Vegas bookmakers will never set odds for, simply because they may not exist: Heath Miller breaking into a celebration jig after scoring a touchdown.

"You have a better chance of the sun dying out before seeing Heath do an end zone dance," Steelers left tackle Max Starks said.

Miller has quietly established himself as a premier tight end. And more than a few people in the Steelers' locker room will tell you that there is not a more complete tight end on the planet than Earl Heath Miller.

The last guy who would say that, of course, is Miller himself.

"These guys may be a little biased," Miller recently said of his teammates, "but I don't really play to be labeled as the best tight end in the league. I have areas that I can improve on, and I'm trying to be the best end I can be."

That approach has made Miller one of the most respected Steelers among his teammates. They honored him for it Monday when they elected him as an offensive co-captain, along with wide receiver Hines Ward.

Given his understated nature, Miller's teammates seemed more excited about his captaincy than he did.

That is not to say Miller does not appreciate or cherish one of the ultimate compliments a player can receive from his colleagues. But he is not any more prone to emotion, on or off the field, than he is to flubbed catches or mental mistakes.

Miller is, in fact, so even-keeled that it would be hard to tell if he had just split the atom and brokered Middle East peace.

Or if he had just lost his starting job and been told he had to sing the national anthem while standing on his head at a Steelers' home game.

"On and off the field, he's just the same guy 24/7," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith said. "He's like a robot almost."

"You have to check his pulse at times to make sure he is still breathing because you think he's a machine," Starks said.

One person who can probably verify this is Miller's wife, Katie.

"She gives my trouble when she sees me fist-pump or something like that," Miller said. "She says, 'Oh, I see you got a little excited out there' because she knows I never really show that much emotion."

Miller shows plenty of other stuff when he is on the field.

The 6-foot-5, 256-pounder has the speed and athleticism to make him a primary target in the passing game. The workmanlike Miller also has the size and strength to block arguably as well as anyone at his position.

"He doesn't drop any balls, he can run like a deer, and he blocks better than any of those other receiving tight ends," Smith said.

Miller has increased his receptions total every year except for one since the Steelers took him late in the first round of the 2005 draft. And the six-year veteran could play an even more prominent role in the passing game this season.

The offseason trade of Santonio Holmes leaves the Steelers with some question marks at wide receiver.

There are none regarding Miller, who gives the Steelers a top receiving threat to work the middle of the field.

As accomplished at football as he is, some of his teammates said Miller could be downright deadly in a different game.

"If you were to play poker with Heath, you would lose every time," Starks said. "You wouldn't know if he is bluffing. He has the best poker face I have ever seen on a human being."

"He definitely should think about (playing poker) after his career," inside linebacker James Farrior said.

Not that he should be thinking about post-football plans anytime soon. Miller doesn't turn 28 until late October, and he only seems to be getting better with age.

"You wish you had 50 guys like him," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "You'd have no problems as a coach."

Additional Information:

Miller time

Tight end Heath Miller has been an impact player since joining the Steelers in 2005. The 30th overall pick of the 2005 draft came into his own last season when he established career highs in catches and receiving yards and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. Here is a look at Miller's career:

2005 : 16 games, 39 receptions, 459 yards, 11.8 avg, 50-yard long, 6 TDs

2006 : 16 games, 34 receptions, 393 yards, 11.6 avg, 87-yard long, 5 TDs

2007 : 16 games, 47 receptions, 566 yards, 12.0 avg, 29-yard long, 7 TDs

2008 : 14 games, 48 receptions, 514 yards, 10.7 avg, 22-yard long, 3 TDs

2009 : 16 games, 76 receptions, 789 yards, 10.4 avg, 41-yard long, 6 TDs

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