Steelers TE Miller quietly leads by example
The essence of Heath Miller could be seen in an unremarkable scene Wednesday in the Steelers' locker room.
Miller had been trying to downplay something receiver Hines Ward said about his work ethic, though the veteran tight end conceded he usually arrives at Steelers headquarters at 6:30 a.m.
A couple of minutes later, Miller called a reporter back over. By the time he got to the weight room that morning, Miller said, outside linebacker James Harrison already was drenched in sweat.
It was Miller's way of deflecting attention, and he went out of his way to do it.
Miller may be averse to calling attention to himself, but the Steelers know better when it comes to one of the best tight ends in franchise history.
His teammates voted him an offensive co-captain in 2010 because of how hard, if quietly, he works. And Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has long said Miller's value is at least a fly pattern beyond the statistics he posts.
When told Miller ranks 13th among tight ends in a poll of the NFL's top 200 players by Scouts Inc., Arians chuckled.
"I think he's the best pure tight end in the league," Arians said. "Most of those guys are not tight ends; they're wide receivers. They don't block anybody. They can't block anybody."
The 6-foot-5, 256-pound Miller is a proven blocker, and he has caught enough passes to rank second in receiving yards (3,233) for a tight end in franchise history.
Miller's production dipped last season after he caught a career-high 76 passes in 2009 and made the Pro Bowl. The absence of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games didn't help. And Miller missed two games near the end of the season after getting knocked out of the Ravens game with a concussion.
Miller may find it difficult to improve significantly on the 42 receptions he made last season even if he plays every game. The Steelers have what Arians calls the best receiving corps since he joined the team in 2004.
He said he will use some five wide receiver sets — and admitted that it could be a delicate balance keeping everybody happy.
"That's the key with our offense now: You cannot get selfish," Arians said "As long as everybody stays with that, and contracts don't get in the way, we could be pretty solid. The minute selfishness creeps in, it can tear you down real quick."
Arians doesn't have to worry about that when it comes to Miller, who never badgers Roethlisberger about being open or getting him the ball.
"I understand how hard Ben's job is as a quarterback," Miller said. "If Ben asks me if I was open and I was, I'll tell him. If he asks me if I was covered and I was covered, I'm going to tell him I was covered. He's looking for honest feedback, and I think if everyone gives him that, it makes his job a little bit easier."
That is quintessential Miller.
"Not a showboat, just straps his helmet and goes about his business," Ward said. "That's what you love about him. I thought I come in early, but he's already here in the shower by the time I get here. He's probably one of the first ones in the building and the last ones to leave."
That work ethic is one why Miller has missed just four games in six seasons. Naturally, he shrugs off all that he puts into football away from the field.
"I've come to realize what I need to have to continue doing to be effective as a player, not only at the (beginning) of the season but at the end of the season," Miller said. "I get my work in, and I know that's going to pay off week 13 or 14 or 15."