By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers announced their annual award-winners Thursday, and tight end Heath Miller was the players’ choice as team MVP.
It’s the first team MVP award for Miller, who was the first tight end to receive it.
“It’s an honor. It would be humbling but the overriding factor would be the disappointment of the season and not doing what we set out to do.
Miller, recently named to his second Pro Bowl, was on pace for his best season. He leads with 71 catches, five short of his single-season mark in 2009. Miller already has established career highs for a single season with 816 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Since he is on injured reserve after knee surgery Thursday, Miller’s team-best catch total might not hold up. If it does, he will be the first tight end to lead the team in receptions since Eric Green in 1993.
“It’s been an amazing year for him, and I’ve been fortunate to be here for every one of his great years with the Steelers,” offensive tackle Max Starks said. “He really deserved to be the MVP this year.
“It’s a shame his year ended prematurely with an injury, but I know he’ll work hard to get back as soon as possible for next season. He leads by his work ethic, and you know exactly what you’re getting from him. He’s a consistent, consummate professional.”
Miller became just the third Steelers player to record 400 career receptions and also became the franchise leader in receiving touchdowns by a tight end, breaking Elbie Nickel’s record of 37. Miller ranks third for the Steelers in receptions (408), seventh in yards (4,680) and is tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns (39).
“Heath did more than just catch balls and score touchdowns,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “He blocked and did a lot of other things, so I think that’s why he was appreciated more in this locker room. (And) I think if you talk to the AFC North opponents, they’ll give him his due credit. But he just didn’t put up those wide receiver-like numbers that some other tight ends have done.
“I’m just glad that he’s finally getting the recognition that he deserves from around the league. He’s not a rah-rah guy who needs to be in front of the camera celebrating. His celebration is he flips the ball, and it’s the most subtle thing ever. He’s so selfless that it’s awesome. He deserved to be our MVP and was much deserved for the Pro Bowl.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey was voted as the AFC’s starting center for the Pro Bowl, and he finally can go after missing the past two years due to injuries. However, even though the defense is ranked No. 1 overall, no Steelers from that side of the ball were named to the Pro Bowl.
“It happens every year,” safety Ryan Clark said. “I was prepared not to go. Other than here in Pittsburgh and in this locker room, I guess I haven’t been recognized as that type of player.”
The Steelers did have four second-alternates to the Pro Bowl: Roethlisberger, Clark, Lawrence Timmons and Shaun Suisham.