Many things went poorly for the Steelers offense this season for many reasons. One of them was not Heath Miller.
It would be wrong to say that at age 30 Miller became an overnight sensation, but correct to say that perhaps everyone came to appreciate him as more than just the best receiving-blocking tight end in the league because he became the best receiver on his team.
His teammates Thursday voted Miller their most valuable player this season, which ended for him Sunday when he left in the fourth quarter of the game against Cincinnati with injuries to three ligaments in his right knee, including the anterior cruciate. He could not attend his own MVP ceremony because he was having surgery Thursday.
"It was a no-brainer for me," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who found a comfort level in a new offense with his tallest receiver.
As Todd Haley switched the offense from one that looked for the big play to a controlled passing attack, Miller was the ideal fit.
"Because we don't go deep as much -- a lot of short stuff -- he's just naturally in the progression," Roethlisberger said. "Where normally it was 'down the field, down the field, get rid of it,' now it's like short-short-short, and he's in that mix."
Miller leads the team with 71 receptions, second in the AFC, and his 816 yards are only 20 off Mike Wallace's team lead. In a season where the wide receivers have been somewhat disappointing for various reasons that include drops and injuries, Miller has excelled. He leads the team with 50 points, a two-point conversion along with his co-leading eight touchdown receptions. He made his second Pro Bowl Wednesday.
"He's a very unselfish player," said Haley. "You can count on him almost all the time to do what he's supposed to do and make plays when you need him."
Roethlisberger said they made some other adjustments to take advantage of Miller's ability and his height, 6 feet 5.
"At times, there was an emphasis" on Miller, the quarterback said. "When we got into the red zone -- what you saw in Cincinnati where we flanked him out at wide receiver, which I've been saying for years we need to do because he's so good out there.
"Doing things like that, moving him around. We had plays designed for him, which we've had in the past, but really just to focus on him getting the ball."
The line continues to form
Another rookie of the year, another offensive lineman. Through all the discussions of what has been wrong with the Steelers in 2012, something is going right in their offensive line after years of playing the shell game.
Mike Adams is the latest example, the third consecutive team rookie of the year who plays in the line. Maurkice Pouncey won it in 2010, Marcus Gilbert won it last season and now Adams.
The only thing separating the line from greatness has been injury. Injury hit Gilbert, who started five games at right tackle and did not play again because of an ankle injury that required surgery. Adams stepped in and, after starting six games in which the Steelers went 4-2 and had their three best rushing games, he has not played again because of a high ankle sprain.
No. 1 pick David DeCastro missed all but the past two games with a preseason knee injury and Willie Colon missed four starts and is on injured reserve with a medial collateral sprain.
The one lineman often overlooked, however, is the one who may have had the best season. Left tackle Max Starks has played every single offensive snap in 2012 after returning from late-January ACL surgery. He has allowed just 3 1/2 sacks, even though he usually draws the best pass rusher on the opponent's defense.
Starks will be an unrestricted free agent and should command a good contract somewhere, if not with the Steelers. He has played on one-year contracts in each of the past two seasons and was not re-signed by the Steelers this year until July 17.
"Yes, the fire is still there," said Starks, who turns 31 in two weeks. "I don't see myself in a backup role again in my career. I am starter-capable and I'm capable of playing an entire season, and that's a role I want to take."
The Steelers started Adams at left tackle in the first preseason game and moved Gilbert there for the second after a knee injury to Adams. If they do not re-sign Starks, one of them likely will have to play there next season with the other on the right.
LeBeau's return Tomlin's call
Dick LeBeau will turn 76 before the 2013 season and hasn't lost the desire to keep coaching. The Steelers defensive coordinator was asked whether he would return for another season, and he said that would be up to Mike Tomlin.
"Let's just say I really like Pittsburgh and I really, really like working for the Steelers," LeBeau said. "But coach Tomlin will have to tell you whether he wants me back or not."
The Steelers defense ranks No. 1 in the NFL in fewest yards allowed, No. 1 in fewest passing yards allowed and is second in fewest rushing yards allowed.
Despite all that, the Steelers did not have a defensive player voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time since the 1999 season, when the Steelers were shut out of the Pro Bowl for the only time.
LeBeau blamed it on too few victories.
• Four Steelers are second alternates to the Pro Bowl, which would mean for them to make the team, two players ahead of them would have to bow out, either because of injury, disinterest or playing in the Super Bowl. The four are Roethlisberger, Ryan Clark, Lawrence Timmons and Shaun Suisham.
• Those who did not practice Thursday include starters Keenan Lewis (knee), Mike Wallace (hip) and Troy Polamalu, who has only practiced Fridays the past few weeks.
• Cleveland quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy have not practiced this week because both have right shoulder injuries. Third-stringer Thaddeus Lewis could make his first NFL start and appearance Sunday. Halfback Trent Richardson also has not practiced because of an ankle injury.
• Casey Hampton, who has started all 15 regular-season games after January ACL surgery, won the Chief Award named in honor of Art Rooney Sr. for a player's cooperation in assisting those who cover the team. The Pro Football Writers selected The Chief Award and the rookie of the year.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published December 28, 2012 5:00 AM