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Miller scales receptions ladder for Steelers

| Monday, Dec. 12, 2011

The occurrence is tantamount to a snowstorm hitting South Beach and is something even less believable than a Kardashian wedding.

But Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace insists it happened, that the perennially underrated Heath Miller engaged in some jawing during a game this season.

Wallace said it took place after a defensive player got the better of Miller on one play — and let him know about it.

"Heath said, 'Well, what happened the other eight plays before that?'" Wallace said with a grin. "It was kind of weird because you never hear him say anything."

It is apropos then that Miller quietly has tied Elbie Nickel for the most catches (329) by a tight end in Steelers history, and that he is less than 10 receptions away from passing Hall of Famer Lynn Swann on the team's all-time receptions list.

Miller doesn't put up the kind of numbers that play well when it comes to making Pro Bowls on a regular basis. But the consensus among his coaches and teammates is that there isn't a better all-around tight end in the NFL.

"I think he's the best player at his position in this league," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "There's some good young ones coming up behind him, but he brings everything to the table. Smart, tough, (goes) 100 percent every play with great hands and (can) run after the catch."

The last person in the Steelers' organization that would tout Arians' assessment is Miller himself.

The seventh-year veteran is seen rather than heard — whether it's in the locker room, on the practice field and during games, for the most part anyway.

And he is the least likely Steelers player to gripe about his role even though some tight ends — see New England's Rob Gronkowski — are putting up the kind of big numbers traditionally associated with wide receivers.

"I believe this team is a good fit for me because I can do a little bit of everything so I wouldn't trade that for anything," said Miller, who has 43 catches for 508 yards and a pair of touchdowns through 13 games. "I do enjoy trying to be good at whatever they ask me to do, whether it's lining up in the backfield, on the line at tight end or the other stuff."

Miller has been doing that since the Steelers took him late in the first round of the 2005 draft.

The former University of Virginia All-American is so steady that you could set your watch by his daily routine at the Steelers' practice facility. His workmanlike approach isn't the only reason Miller has been so reliable at finding soft spots in the defense and serving as a blocker.

Miller is one of the better athletes on the Steelers, having excelled as a quarterback in high school before moving to tight end in college. He was also a standout in baseball growing up, not that Miller broadcasts any of this.

That quiet nature is one reason no other skill player with a Pro Bowl on his resume — Miller made the AFC squad in 2009 — has a lower profile than the 6-foot-5, 256-pounder.

"It doesn't really matter to me," Miller said of not getting more attention beyond Pittsburgh. "I think collectively as a group if we respect each other as teammates and the job that people do, I think that's all that really matters ultimately to our team."

Respect is something Miller commands from his teammates, and they voted him an offensive captain in 2010. Just as he has climbed the Steelers' list for all-time receptions, he has become a team leader in his own quiet and unassuming way.

"I think he's definitely the most underrated player on our team," Wallace said. "He's a great player."

And, on rare occasions, a chatty one — at least according to Wallace.

When asked about the veracity of Wallace's claim that he exchanged in some trash talk this season, Miller grinned.

"I don't know," he said. "I'm sure I've said a few things."

Additional Information:

Chart climber

Tight end Heath Miller is closing in on the fourth spot on the Steelers' all-time receptions list:

1. Hines Ward, 1998-present: 991 receptions-12,027 yards (12.1 average), 85 touchdowns

2. John Stallworth, 1974-87: 537 receptions-8,723 yards (16.2 average),  63 touchdowns

3. Louis Lipps, 1984-91: 358 receptions-6,018 yards (16.8 average), 39 touchdowns

4. Lynn Swann, 1974-82: 336 receptions-5,462 yards (16.3 average), 51 touchdowns

5. (tie) Elbie Nickel, 1947-57: 329 receptions-5,133 yards (15.6 average), 37 touchdowns

Heath Miller, 2005-present: 329 receptions-3,741 yards (11.4 average), 31 touchdowns

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