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Miller time can't come any sooner

9/20/2013

PITTSBURGH -- Heath Miller's value transcends numbers, solid as the tight end's production has been in eight seasons with the Steelers.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley provided some insight on that Thursday when he talked about how he regularly uses Miller’s play as a teaching tool when the Steelers are reviewing game tape.

One of Haley’s favorite hits so to speak is when Miller wipes out a cornerback or a linebacker on a wide receiver screen.

“We keep running it back and forth just to say, ‘Look at that. That’s a true pro finishing with the nastiness and toughness you need,’” Haley said. "You can’t have enough of those guys.”

Barring a setback, Miller will return to action Sunday night, and not a moment too soon for the Steelers’ flailing offense.

Coach Mike Tomlin and Miller himself have tried to temper expectations for the latter when he is back on the field. But Miller represents the best hope that the offense can be salvaged because he is so vital to it as a receiver and a blocker.

People who are around him at the Steelers’ practice facility every day would argue until they are blue in the face that Miller may well be the best all-around tight end on the planet.

That is no disrespect to Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or any of the other pass-catching tight ends who command more attention than Miller, whether it’s on ESPN highlights or in fantasy football drafts.

But Miller, who had a career-high 816 receiving yards last season before tearing up his right knee, is a devastating blocker as well as a perhaps the receiver that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger trusts the most.

“You don’t hear much from him but he comes in and kills people,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said. “He is who young guys look at like, man, that’s how you want to model yourself.”

Indeed one of the quietest players on the Steelers is also one of the most respected ones in the locker room.

Miller, Foster said, arrives every morning for work at 6:15. And he is remarkably consistent throughout the day whether it is during practice or simply in his demeanor, which could make Miller a world-class poker player if he ever wanted to pursue that route.

That brings me to another area where Miller’s return will be huge for the Steelers: leadership.

He may be the antithesis of fiery but Miller leads in his own quiet way. And his approach may be something the embattled Steelers can rally around since it doesn’t change no matter how good or how adverse conditions are.

“I feed off him,” said Foster, a fifth-year veteran, “because I see he’s consistent. Nothing ever changes about him.”

The offensive linemen call Miller “The Godfather,” which seems like an odd nickname for such an unassuming and understated person.

But it makes perfect sense after Foster, the most tenured player on the offensive line, provides a little context.

“If he says something, you listen,” Foster said. “That’s Heath Miller.”