On the Steelers: Just where will Nickel 'end' up?
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The National Football League announced this week that Heath Miller, with 10 more receptions, will become the first Steelers tight end with 300 in his career.
Not so fast, say the Steelers. Elbie Nickel caught 329 passes and he made both of their all-time teams at tight end, the one marking their 50th anniversary and the one marking their 75th.
"I've heard of him," said Miller, and he will not deny Nickel the record just because the NFL says so. "I know he played tight end.''
Nickel played (1947-57) in an era when there were generally no such designations as tight ends and wide receivers. There were ends and, as it developed, then a split end and later a flanker. ProFootballReference.com lists Nickel under wide receivers but not as a wide receiver, but as an "E," which is how he is listed on the Steelers all-time roster.
The Steelers, though, have long considered him a tight end, so Miller will not be the first to hit 300 in their eyes. When it happens, though, it nevertheless will be an accomplishment as their second tight end to do so and the first in the Super Bowl era.
"I don't really pay attention to numbers, to be honest with you,'' Miller said. "I just try to focus on what my job is each and every week and do what I can."
Two years ago, that included catching more passes in one season than any tight end in Steelers history, including Nickel. He had 75 in 2009. Eric Green caught 63 in 1993 and Nickel 62 in 1953. Nickel, though, holds the unofficial team record for tight ends in one season by averaging 5.2 receptions per game in 1953 to Miller's 4.7 in 2009.
Miller's not about milestones and, like Mark Bruener before him, he understands the scheme of things with the Steelers offense -- that tight ends are expected to block first. This year, he's doing it a little more from the backfield.
"I enjoy doing that. It's different," Miller said. "You see the defense a little differently. It's new and exciting."
Injury fixed ... and the problem, too
Poor Daniel Sepulveda. It looked as though the punter's career could have ended Dec. 5 when the ACL in his right knee tore for the third time since his final season at Baylor in 2006 and for the second time in three seasons with the Steelers. What's more, he was an unrestricted free agent entering 2011.
But surgeon Jim Bradley suggested an adjustment before he repaired Sepulveda's plant leg nine months ago.
"I have a naturally hyperextended knee; it bows backward," Sepulveda said. "I wouldn't say it's double-jointed. It just goes farther back than normal."
When Bradley fixed it in December, he allowed for that natural bow whereas previous surgeries did not, which is why Sepulveda thinks the ACL kept tearing.
"It wouldn't let me go back, and I think my body fought against that because it's just my natural physiology."
It's been more physics than physiology, watching Sepulveda punt through the first two games of the season after an excellent preseason.
Sepulveda's 55.1-yard average ranks second in the AFC to Oakland's Shane Lechler, who averages 56.0, and third overall in the NFL. Sepulveda's net average of 46.6 leads the AFC and ranks second in the NFL to former Pitt punter Andy Lee of San Francisco, the league leader in both categories.
The Steelers have had one punter in one Pro Bowl in their history, Bobby Walden after the 1969 season.
The life and times of the Pouncey brothers
The Steelers could not pull it off, so it will be left up to the AFC to possibly do it -- have the Pouncey twins play on the same team.
The Miami Dolphins drafted Maurkice Pouncey's twin brother, Mike, before the Steelers could try to do it, and he has started the first two games at center for them. At Florida, the twins played side by side with Maurkice at center and Mike at guard. After Maurkice left school one year early and the Steelers drafted him in the first round, Mike moved into his spot as the Gators' starting center in 2010.
Maurkice made the Pro Bowl as a rookie -- he did not attend because of the Super Bowl conflict -- and now Mike told his twin that "he's going to take my spot this year."
"He's been balling," Maurkice said of his brother's play at center with the Dolphins.
Indianapolis has a pull on Maurkice and not just because he and his teammates play there tonight. It is home to the next Super Bowl, and it also was the home of the Pouncey twins' mother before her family moved to Florida. Maurkice put in a large order of tickets for this one so his grandparents and many of his aunts, uncles and cousins can show up for the game. They all used to be Colts fans.
"They're definitely Steelers fans now, or they ain't coming to the game," Pouncey said.
There is only one thing Maurkice Pouncey would like better than for him and his twin to hold down the two roster spots for center in the Pro Bowl for the AFC -- one of them in the Super Bowl, preferably him.
First Published September 25, 2011 12:00 am