Rookie TE a bright spot

Rookie TE a bright spot

PITTSBURGH -- Tommy Maddox made some lousy decisions Sunday, but his best – and smartest – was his decision to dial up Heath Miller.

The first-round draft pick caught four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown in the best game by a Steelers' tight end since Eric Green in 1994.

In two games, Miller has 10 catches for 124 yards and three touchdowns. That's a season for most Pittsburgh Steelers tight ends of the recent past.

"He's doing a great job," said the team's other tight end, Jerame Tuman. "He's doing what you'd expect from a No. 1 pick."

Fans in general didn't have any idea what to expect from a tight end picked in the first round. And when Miller opened the season with two catches for 16 yards in two games, the criticisms began.

Miller, though, has looked like the second coming of Elbie Nickel of late. In his last two games, Miller's caught more passes than the Steelers' leading tight end last season, Tuman, who caught nine passes for 89 yards and three touchdowns.

Miller now has three touchdowns for the season and is on pace for the best season by a tight end since Green left the team and Mark Bruener was drafted in 1995. As a rookie, Bruener caught 26 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns.

"I made a few catches but you can't be satisfied," Miller said. "Any time you lose a game like this, it's tough to swallow."

The Steelers, of course, lost 23-17 on an interception return for a touchdown by Rashean Mathis in overtime.

Miller had no reason to hang his head. His 15-yard touchdown reception to start the second quarter gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead.

On second-and-6, Maddox, flushed from the pocket, scrambled left. He spotted Miller in the middle of the field and hit him with a short pass. Miller headed toward the goal line and pin-balled off Kenny Wright, Daryl Smith and Deon Grant before falling across the goal line.

"I just saw the goal line and was trying to stay low and get across," he said. "They did a good job of covering the route initially and I was able to slide to an open hole and Tommy did a good job of finding it."

Maddox didn't throw to Miller again until the first series of the fourth quarter while executing the no-huddle attack.

Miller caught the first pass of the drive for five yards, and then reached the Jacksonville 25 with a 27-yard reception. The Steelers kicked a field goal to tie the score, 17-17. It was the last points the Steelers would score, even though Miller did catch a 25-yard pass later in the fourth quarter.

Why wasn't Miller more of a factor late in the fourth quarter and overtime?

"The defense dictates where the ball goes and they covered me a little bit at the end," Miller said.

Miller is a soft-spoken player who only showed the slightest bit of emotion when asked if he had a nickname.

"No nickname," he said with a quick shake of the head. "I'll stick with Heath right now."

So forget about "Ketchup Head", even though Heath has become quite a weapon in the red zone. In the previous game against San Diego, Miller flashed open like a wide receiver to pull in a 16-yard touchdown catch. Against Jacksonville, his 15-yard touchdown catch showed a more physical side. Miller's first pro catch was a three-yard touchdown catch.

So, he's become a certifiable weapon in the red zone. Is this what the Steelers envisioned from Miller when they drafted him?

"It's usually where you use the tight ends," explained Tuman. "It's a good area for them a lot of times because when you get down there you're using a lot of two tight-end, three tight-end sets so obviously your tight ends become weapons down there. So, yes, that's where you'd like to use your tight end, down in the red zone."

Thirty percent of his receptions so far have gone for touchdowns. Obviously, Steelers fans wish Maddox had increased that percentage on Sunday.

"Any time you lose a game like this it's tough to swallow," Miller said for a second time. "We fought all day and so did they. They just made one more play than we did at the end of the game."

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