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Virginia tight end Heath Miller becomes Big Ben's newest target



Published: Sat, April 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Some traditions of the Pittsburgh Steelers rarely change. Their commitment to the run. Those black-and-gold uniforms. Their reluctance to throw to the tight end.

Heath Miller isn't lobbying yet for new uniforms or for Jerome Bettis to get the ball less, but hopes to do something immediately about those limited number of passes to the tight end.

Miller, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Virginia junior and Mackey award winner as the nation's top tight end last season, became quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's newest and biggest target Saturday.

In the second round, the Steelers selected cornerback Bryant McFadden of Florida State.

As they've done before, the Steelers are promising that this tight end will get the ball. Only this time, they might be serious.

Miller, one of the most productive tight ends in Division I-A history, is only the third tight end drafted by Pittsburgh on the first round in 28 years, joining Mark Bruener (1995) and Eric Green (1990). The Steelers clearly like the added options he gives an offense that saw 2004 starter Jerame Tuman make only nine catches all season.

"He's a guy who fits what we like to do -- he can block and he can stretch the field," coach Bill Cowher said of Miller, who caught 144 passes in three college seasons. "We don't need to change the offense (for him), and that's the good thing about a guy like that. He can enhance what we do and add another dimension.

"We want to put good players around our quarterback and not get away from what we do," Cowher said.

Few standouts

The Steelers haven't had a starting tight end catch even 20 passes since Bruener caught 26 as a rookie. But it's not as if Cowher has always considered the tight end to be a sixth offensive lineman who rarely runs pass routes; Green caught 63 passes in 1993 and 46 in 1994 before signing with Miami.

"They talk about us not throwing to the tight end, but we try to utilize what we have," Cowher said. "When we had Eric Green here, we tried to utilize him. I'm not saying he's Eric Green ... but he's a no-nonsense guy who is a good fit for what we do."

The Steelers wanted to expand the tight end's role two years ago when they signed former Bills tight end Jay Riemersma, but he caught only 17 passes combined in two injury-filled seasons. Tuman is a skilled blocker, but has averaged fewer than one catch per game while starting all but four games in the last two seasons. The five tight ends currently on the Steelers' roster caught 15 passes last season.

Miller made 41 catches last season, five for touchdowns, after making 70 receptions as a sophomore. He made a career-high nine touchdown catches as a freshman, only a year after the former Virginia high school all-state quarterback changed positions so he could play sooner.

In the spotlight

Miller was one of five players the Steelers believed might be available when they chose, especially after the Jets acquired tight end Doug Jolley from Oakland on Thursday for the No. 26 overall pick.

"I always knew in the back of my mind they (the Steelers) were an option," Miller said. "I'm excited to be part of this team, with the history behind it."

Some NFL teams were nervous about the sports hernia injury Miller sustained midway through last season, one that became increasingly painful. He had surgery in January, and the Steelers expect him to be ready for training camp.

Cowher revealed that the doctor who operated on Miller, William Meyers of Philadelphia, also performed the same surgery on Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend several months ago. Former Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell also missed most of last season with a sports hernia.

"If there was any concern, we would not have made this pick," director of football operations Kevin Colbert said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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