The Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with a number of aging talents that epitomized success in the community during the height of their careers. While their on-field assets may have diminished over the years, however, one should not underestimate the ripple effect that their departures could have within the locker room.
While the concepts of camaraderie and leadership may be somewhat elusive when it comes to the team chemistry of a sports team, there is no doubt some truth to the idea that these qualities help build a winning team, especially when it comes to a game as interconnected with one another as is football.
The last several offseasons have seen some quality championship characters exit stage right, and their vacant lockers no doubt diminished the overall character of the room as a whole. Just recently, the team saw both Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu retire, even if their departures were already in the plans for this spring.
The question now becomes identifying who the new locker room leaders are, both now and in the future. I believe we do have some immediate answers, with a few waiting to be developed in the coming years, so let’s get to know some of these men who are leading the locker room these days for the Steelers.
He may not be the most talkative man, but he is perhaps the single most widely respected. It should not surprise you to find out that I’m speaking of veteran tight end Heath Miller (and not just because his name was in the title of this article).
Having already played a decade in this league, Miller has repeatedly shown himself to be among the most humble and gracious of professional athletes while still performing at an absolutely high level on the field.
In many ways, Miller and former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu were very much cut from the same cloth. Soft-spoken and eternally modest, it’s virtually impossible to find a negative thing said about them.
Yet while they don’t speak up much, when they do, everybody listens, because it tends to be something important and worth hearing, if not motivating. They are the type of people that you might be surprised to learn were professional athletes if you just ran into them on the street.
While there is the popular saying that you don’t want a team full of choir boys, however, Miller is the type of well-natured individual who has the switch turned to ‘on’ when it comes to what happens between the white lines of a football field.
Miller is becoming a bit of a dinosaur in this league, and not because he will be turning 33 in October. It’s because he is a throwback type of player to an era of football that is seemingly fading away, a two-way tight end that is a legitimate threat as a receiver and also a very good blocker. He is as much wide receiver as offensive lineman.
His workmanlike mentality to his profession, and the success that it has brought over the past decade—532 receptions, 6034 yards, 43 touchdowns—is an inspiration to those around him, as has been attested by teammates time and again over the years. He is a leader by example if there ever was one, who also knows when to speak up when necessary. As one of the veterans of a young offense, perhaps that will be more important this year than ever.