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Team-first Miller doesn't sweat personal statistics

| Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011

Ben Roethlisberger shared an anecdote this week to illustrate tight end Heath Miller's team-first mentality.

"I'll come off to the sideline and ask him if he was open on a play, and he will tell me 'No,' Roethlisberger said. "I'll go look at it on film, and he was wide open."

Miller is concerned with individual accolades as much as he worries what is served at the Steelers' South Side cafeteria (Thursday lunch was steak salad, sauteed mushrooms and onion rings).

One year after a Pro Bowl season, he is lumbering near career-low totals in every receiving category.

And he couldn't care less.

"The bottom line is winning," Miller said. "It's no fun catching a lot of passes when you are losing a lot of games."

That attitude is why Miller was voted a team captain for the first time this season. The sixth-year pro has 38 receptions for 457 yards and one touchdown; he is on pace to have his lowest totals since 2006 in all three categories.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said Miller, who missed two games in December with a concussion, remains a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end.

"(The Pro Bowl) is what numbers you put up," Arians said. "It has nothing to do with playing the position better than everybody else in the league."

Miller returned from his concussion to catch five passes for a season-high 73 yards against Carolina last week, but still, based solely on statistics, he is ranked somewhere between Daniel Fells of the Rams and Joel Dreessen of the Texans among tight ends this season.

"It's just the way it shakes out," Miller said. "Offensively, we've got enough guys that we can take what the defense gives us."

Actually, Miller prefers it when he's not catching a lot of passes. Last year, he had 76 receptions for 789 yards and six touchdowns as the 9-7 Steelers were playing catch-up. This year, they are running the ball — with the 6-foot-5, 256-pound Miller blocking — to protect leads.

"We're not throwing it like we were," Arians said. "But he's probably playing as good or better than he ever has."

Roethlisberger has long regarded the former first-round pick as the best all-around tight end in the league.

"I feel just as comfortable with him blocking as I do with any of my lineman," he said, "and just as comfortable with him catching as I do with any of my receivers."

Miller remains a reliable target. He has caught one touchdown in each of the Steelers' past three post-seasons.

He can take another step forward against the Browns on Sunday. In their first meeting with the Browns, Miller had his lone touchdown - a 14-yarder from Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter - and his longest reception of the season, a 36-yarder.

If Miller says he's not open Sunday, Roethlisberger will have to take his word for it.

"I'm never going to be a guy who comes back to the huddle and says I was open, when I had two guys on me or I wasn't open," Miller said. "I try to be honest with (Ben), and I think he will trust me and appreciate that."

Additional Information:

Down, not out

Heath Miller's numbers are down across the board this season:

2010 : 38 receptions, 457 yards, 1 touchdown

2009 : 76 receptions, 789 yards, 6 touchdowns

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