Ron Cook: Steelers' Miller a tough man to keep out
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Steelers tight end Heath Miller, a man of many accomplishments and few words, typically and politely refused to discuss his injury.
Good thing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was there to help.
"I've had it and I can tell you it's absolutely miserable."
Rib cartilage separation.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made it sound almost routine when he listed Miller on the team's injury report this week. That's what coaches do. Making a big deal of injuries is a sign of weakness, you know? A torn medial collateral ligament? Hey, they are a part of the game. A mild concussion? That's easy for a coach to say. He's not the one with the headaches.
Rib cartilage separation has to be excruciating, right?
"It feels like someone is stabbing you with a knife constantly," Roethlisberger said.
It really must hurt because Miller missed practice Wednesday and Thursday. Don't rule him out of the game Sunday in Oakland against the Raiders just yet, though. It will be something of a surprise if he doesn't practice today. Miller almost always finds a way to go, playing in 120 of a possible 124 games -- including the postseason -- during his eight-year NFL career. He missed two games in 2010 with a concussion after taking a vicious hit from Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain, who was fined $40,000. He also missed two games in '08 with an ankle injury.
"One tough son of a gun," Roethlisberger said of Miller.
One really fine player, too.
Miller was the first man mentioned by new offensive coordinator Todd Haley when Haley took the job in February. Miller will have a bigger role, Haley promised. Roethlisberger immediately endorsed the idea. "Especially in the red zone. Heath is so valuable down there."
Haley has followed through with the plan. He shuffles players in and out on nearly every play, but he never takes Miller off the field. Miller is just as valuable in the run game as he is in the passing game. "Like I've always said, he blocks like a lineman and catches like a receiver," Roethlisberger said.
For his part, Roethlisberger clearly has looked for Miller in the red zone. The two connected for a 4-yard touchdown in the opening-game loss to the Denver Broncos and a 1-yard touchdown in the win Sunday against the New York Jets. Miller's two touchdowns match his total from each of the previous two seasons.
"We're trying to get him to the Pro Bowl," Roethlisberger said. "If we keep utilizing him, it will be big."
It will be a big loss for the offense if Miller can't play against the Raiders. He and wide receivers Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders have been huge in a passing game that, without an effective run game, carried the team in the first two games. The four combined for 34 catches for 421 yards and four touchdowns.
Not bad for three young guys and one old tight end.
Funny, that observation made Miller wince every bit as much as his rib cartilage separation does.
He turns 30 on Oct. 22.
"Old is a bad word in this business," Miller said. "I'm not ready to put it in front of my name yet. When I think of veteran players, I think of Aaron Smith, Hines Ward, James Farrior. ... Guys who have been in the league for 12 or 13 years. I'm not there yet."
Getting there, though.
"It's hard to believe I've been here this long. It goes so fast," Miller said. "You look around and see the turnover among the players. There aren't many guys left on my side of the ball. Me, Ben, Max [Starks]. That's it. Not many."
It has been a terrific ride for Miller since the Steelers drafted him No. 1 in 2005. He started as a rookie on the team that won Super Bowl XL, started on the team that won Super Bowl XLIII and started on the team that lost Super Bowl XLV. "The bottom line is winning," he said. "It's all that matters."
Personal stats aren't important to Miller, but he has put together some impressive ones. He holds Steelers records for most career and single-season catches by a tight end. He ranks fourth on the franchise career receptions list and eighth in receiving yards.
Miller should have made more than one Pro Bowl. He was picked in 2009 after he set the team record for a tight end with 76 catches.
If Haley and Roethlisberger have anything to do with it, Miller will make it to No. 2 this season.
First Published September 21, 2012 12:00 am