Miller doesn't believe it is better to receive

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A dozen times, in a dozen different ways, the question was asked:

Don't you wish you could play in an offense that, you know, actually throws the ball to the tight end?

A dozen times, the Steelers' Heath Miller listened politely and refused to bite.

"You probably could drop back and hit the tight end on every play if you wanted," he said. "But I don't know how successful your offense would be. That's not going to get you down the field. That's not going to get you many points.

"I'd rather win games."

Is that a team man or what?

The Steelers are lucky. Miller could be a lot more selfish. He's not just good as a receiver, he's superb.

Opening numbers

Numbers of note that come into play for the Steelers' 75th season opener this afternoon in Cleveland:

0: Wins for Steelers head coaches in their first game vs. the Browns since 1950.

4: Consecutive opening-day wins for the Steelers.

7-1: Steelers record at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

13-1: Steelers record in the teams' past 14 meetings.

55-55: Series record.

111: Games in the series including today -- most between any two AFC teams

You're talking about some of the best hands on the team, a guy who is Ben Roethlisberger's most dependable receiver after Hines Ward. You should want to see Big Ben throw the ball to Miller on third down. He'll either beat his man to get the first down or drag him to the marker. Most defenders need a lot of help to get him down.

"I have all the faith in the world in him," Roethlisberger said last week. "If you even put it close to him, he's going to make the play."

That prompts the same question that's asked around here every year at this time:

Is this the season the Steelers are going to finally throw to the tight end?

"The coaches have talked about using more multiple-tight end groupings," Miller said. "That helps. The more you're on the field, the more opportunities you have. But I really don't think they've put anything special in for me."

That's unfortunate, although I'm still holding out hope.

It's one thing to under-utilize the tight end as a receiver, as the Steelers have done for years. It's something much worse to do it with Miller, who had the ridiculously low total of 34 catches last season, down from 39 in '05, his rookie season. It's a crying shame 16 NFL tight ends had more catches last season. You don't mind the guys named Winslow Jr., Heap, Gonzalez and Gates. But George Wrighster? Ben Utecht?

Steelers coaches have been talking internally since April about using Miller more. Here's hoping they start to do it today, when the team opens the season in Cleveland.

Sure, it's unrealistic to expect Miller to match the 89 catches the Browns' Kellen Winslow had last season. But is 60 or 65 so hard to imagine?

Not that Miller has to have any catches to be effective, Roethlisberger was saying.

"He's very valuable to our offense because he draws the safeties in. He opens things up on the outside because teams have to respect him in the passing game, especially in the red zone."

Miller made it clear he'll gladly take what he gets. At one point, he said, "I think Hines and all of us realize when we run the ball well, we're a tough team to beat."

At another point: "We've got a lot of guys who can make plays. We're a better team when we spread the ball around."

And still later: "Hines, Nate [Washington], Santonio [Holmes], those guys are able to get deep and spread the field. We have to take advantage of that."

By then, you just want to shake Miller and tell him he needs to pull a Keyshawn Johnson and scream, "Throw me the damn ball!"

We'll probably be waiting awhile.

It's too bad. Miller is wasting a wonderful opportunity. He has Roethlisberger's ear, more than anyone on the team. He and Big Ben shared a hotel room in Cleveland last night, just as they do on every trip.

"Nah, we don't ever talk about football," Miller said. "We get enough of that during the day. Sometimes, you need to get away from it a little and relax."

The man grinned.

"I'm not much of a lobbyist, anyway."

Who could have guessed?

Ron Cook can be reached at .


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