The latest and possibly greatest Steelers TE

PITTSBURGH – Brett Keisel wears a yellow jersey in practice to indicate he's a defensive player, but there he was playing on a line of white-clad offensive players.

Keisel likes to stand out, but he looked like a penalty flag playing tight end at practice this week. The back-up defensive end took some reps at the position in case of an in-game emergency.

"Hey, that's why I went to BYU, to play tight end," Keisel crowed after practice. "Finally someone here recognizes my potential for greatness.

"Of course," Keisel added with a wide grin, "I'm not in a league with the great one here."

Next to Keisel's locker was rookie tight end Heath Miller. The first-round pick has started five games, but the last start marked his first in a single-tight end set.

Miller officially became the Steelers' starting tight end last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals and he had two-thirds of Ben Roethlisberger's nine completions for 58 yards and a touchdown.

It was Miller's fourth touchdown in six games, putting him on pace to break the team record of nine touchdown catches by a Steelers tight end set way back in 1952 by Elbie Nickel, who was voted the franchise's all-time best player at the position in 1983.

In a mid-week press conference with Baltimore reporters, Steelers coach Bill Cowher brought up the other great Steelers tight end when he called Miller "an element we haven't had since Eric Green."

Green lasted only five years with the team, but he caught 198 passes for 2,681 yards and 24 touchdowns. Nickel spent 11 years with the Steelers and caught 329 passes for 5,131 yards and 37 touchdowns.

So far, Miller has caught 16 passes for 182 yards and four touchdowns, which projects to 43-486-11 for the season. So it's reasonable to expect Miller to chase the aforementioned numbers through the coming years and perhaps become known as the Steelers' greatest tight end.

Don't laugh; it could happen. Heath, what are your thoughts on the matter?

"My thoughts?" Miller asked. "Well, you heard that laughter I just gave."

Of course, this topic embarrasses the humble rookie.

"You know, I've played, what, six games here," he said. "I'm far from being called that, or even mentioned like that. I'm just trying to do the best I can to take care of my responsibilities and help us win.

"I know I've got a lot to learn. I know I can get better in a lot of ways, so I just have to keep that in mind and keep working every day."

Miller feels he needs to become more familiar with defenses because "the quicker you can recognize that and anticipate it, the better you can become as a route runner. Also, I think I can become a better blocker, too."

Miller had a lousy day blocking the Jacksonville Jaguars, but improved markedly Sunday against the Bengals. Still, his most impressive attribute is his pass catching. After all, he caught 144 passes at the University of Virginia.

"He's got great hands," said Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu. "I think that's the thing most people notice."

"He's a tall guy who can bend his knees and get down in the run game," said offensive coordinator Ken Whinsenhunt. "But the most impressive thing about him as a receiver is he catches everything away from his body and he's got strong hands. That's what's impressive about him."

So Miller has big, strong hands and uses them perfectly. But what's the key to getting open in the middle of the field?

"You try to use your body," said the 6-foot-5, 256-pound Miller. "I realize that I'm a big guy and a lot of times I'm bigger than the defensive backs. So whenever the ball's up there you try to use your body to your advantage."

Did he play basketball?

"A little bit. I could rebound. I couldn't shoot though."

Miller was better known at Honaker (Va.) High for the way he put those big, soft hands to use as the two-time all-state quarterback. So he's yet another in a long line of Steelers who used to play quarterback, but unlike Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El, Deshea Townsend, Cedrick Wilson and the others, Miller wouldn't go back to the position even if he could.

"I like to mix it up a little bit," Miller said. "You don't get to hit anybody when you play quarterback; you're always getting hit."

Old school all the way. Elbie Nickel, beware.

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