Heath Miller has one of those jobs few in his profession covet. He plays tight end for the Steelers, and if a tight end wants to star in professional football, that's the last place to work.
Miller is on his fastest receiving pace since he arrived as the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2005, and he is moving up the list of all-time Steelers tight ends. On the grand NFL landscape, though, it's merely a ripple.
Miller's 21 receptions in seven games has him on pace to catch 48 passes, which would top his career high from last season by one. He also will soon become the team's fourth-most productive receiving tight end with four more receptions and could become their second-best scoring tight end by season's end.
But compared to other tight ends, it's a drop in the bucket. There will be a pass-catching tight end on the field tonight in Landover, Md., but he'll be wearing a Redskins uniform.
Chris Cooley's 40 receptions are second in the NFL among tight ends behind Jason Witten. A converted fullback, Cooley made the Pro Bowl last season when he caught 66 passes.
Yet Bruce Arians, the Steelers' offensive coordinator, said he'd take Heath Miller over all of them.
"Pro bowls have nothing to do with the best tight ends going to the Pro Bowl," Arians said. "It's the guy with the most catches who goes. Those are glorified wide receivers. I've said it every year, Heath's the best tight end in the AFC."
The Steelers have placed just one tight end in a Pro Bowl in the past 45 seasons: Eric Green made it after the 1993 season, when he led Bill Cowher's second team with 63 receptions.
It's Miller's own fault. If he weren't so good at blocking, or so willing, he would likely be Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates, or even Chris Cooley -- he just would not have been drafted by the Steelers.
"Heath Miller could be whoever he wanted to be if he were a tight end in their offense," Arians said of the Redskins. "He could be all those guys, because those guys can't block. He can block."
Miller could make a run at becoming the Steelers' second Pro Bowl tight end in 46 seasons because the traditional top AFC tight ends, Gonzalez and Gates, are off in their production with 33 and 30 receptions, respectively. But he would have to pick up the pace, and on a team that has three good wide receivers, it's more likely Miller will catch fewer than 50 passes instead of more.
"In our offense I think it's in our best interests to spread the ball around and use all of our weapons," Miller said. "I think that's when we pose the biggest threat to defenses."
You check your ego at the door when you become a Steelers tight end.
"This offense is not made for it," Hines Ward said. "It's hard for any receiver, tight end or anything, to really be compared up there with everybody else.
"You look at the guy in Houston [tight end Owen Davis with 32 catches] -- they're passing the ball all the time. A lot of that has to do with them playing behind all the time. When we jump up on somebody, we're pounding the ball all the time so the opportunities won't be there as much."
No Steelers player has 100 yards receiving as the team approaches the halfway mark tonight. There have been 100-yard receiving games turned in 76 times in the NFL this season. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin have topped 100 yards in the same game twice.
As it is, Miller ranks third on the team behind Santonio Holmes, who has 22 receptions. Ward leads with 31 and Nate Washington comes in fourth with 16.
"In this offense, we have a lot of playmakers," Ward said. "You may not put up huge stats, you may have 100 yards every now and then, but it doesn't discredit the type of ballplayer you are.
"Heath is one of those guys when you look at all the stuff he's done on film, he is, in my opinion, one of the better tight ends in the AFC."
Miller entered the weekend ranked 74th among all receivers with his 21 receptions, which put him 11th among tight ends.
The only thing more surprising than a Steelers tight end catching 10 passes in a game would be to see Heath Miller demanding the ball more often.
"I think everybody who's a player on offense would like to get the ball," Miller said. "At the same time, you have to understand the grand scheme of things, and I think I've tried to do that with this offense.
"We all understand we're all in it together and that's when we're most effective."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published November 3, 2008 5:00 AM