Capitals

Quiet leader Miller putting together career year

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Quiet leader Miller putting together career year

PITTSBURGH (AP) Ben Roethlisberger stopped by Heath Miller's locker and decided it was time to throw his tight end's hat into the political ring.

``Forget Pro Bowl, I'm going to make him president of the United States,'' the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said with a laugh.

When asked what Miller's platform would be, Roethlisberger - who installed himself as Miller's campaign manager - kept it simple.

``You should be tough, be tough like Heath,'' he said.

Forgive Roethlisberger for his exuberance, and never mind that at age 30 Miller is still too young to run for the White House. Considering the way Miller has quietly and responsibly carried himself through his steady eight-year career, it's no wonder Roethlisberger wouldn't mind having his good friend running the country.

Not that Miller would consider it. Running for president would require bringing attention to himself, something Miller has avoided with the same kind of agility that's made him one of the league's most consistent tight ends for the better part of a decade.

Even now, in the midst of perhaps his finest season, Miller seems just happy to do his part for a 3-3 team still searching for a rhythm heading into Sunday's game against Washington (3-4).

Listen to Miller talk and you wouldn't think he's second on the team in receptions (31) and tied with New England's Rob Gronkowski for the NFL lead for touchdown catches by a tight end with five. On paper - and on the field - it looks like Miller is in the midst of a career year. Not that he's paying attention or anything.

``You can look at the stats and make determinations based on that but I feel I'm the same player I've always been,'' Miller said.

One that may finally be stepping into the spotlight whether he likes it or not.

Roethlisberger has always considered Miller a ``security blanket'' since the day the Steelers selected him in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft. The bond between the two appears stronger than ever, particularly around the goal line.

Miller's touchdowns this season have all been nine yards or less, a tribute to the way Miller can get his 6-foot-5 frame to work within confined spaces. In last week's 24-17 win over Cincinnati, Miller cut across the middle, hauled in a fastball from Roethlisberger then absorbed a couple of shots before coming down with the ball to help the Steelers tie the game late in the first half.

``He catches it with his hands, he gets hit by a bunch of guys, holds on,'' Roethlisberger. ``You've got to enjoy throwing to a guy like that.''

And while Miller often doesn't show it, he enjoys playing like that. His post-touchdown celebrations are often muted affairs. He's only too happy to leave the turf-thundering spikes to Gronkowski.

Every once in a while - particularly if he thinks the Steelers need a lift - Miller will provide a glimpse of what's going on underneath the helmet.

On the road with the season at a critical point against a division rival turned out to be one of those times.

Standing in the end zone in hostile territory, Miller looked up into the crowd and flexed just before getting mobbed by his teammates. The uncharacteristic outburst didn't go unnoticed, even if Miller sheepishly and sincerely insists it wasn't planned.

``It's cool to see him show emotion because he's such a reserved guy,'' rookie tight end David Paulson said. ``When he makes plays he gets the whole team going ... he does everything right.''

The Steelers are relying on that leadership more than ever. When injuries to the offensive line forced Pittsburgh to start rookie Mike Adams at right tackle last week against Cincinnati's aggressive front seven, the team lined Miller up to Adams' right early in the game to take some of the pressure off until Adams could settle in.

Perhaps it's no coincidence most of Pittsburgh's season-high 167 yards rushing came right behind Miller.

It's that dedication to being all facets of his position that led Roethlisberger to call Miller ``maybe the best teammate I've played with at any level.''

That selflessness, however, has rarely led to personal accolades. Miller went to the Pro Bowl in 2009 but has spent the majority of his career in the shadows of players who have put up gaudier numbers.

Miller would appreciate a trip to Hawaii but hopes he doesn't get to go if selected. He'd rather be getting ready for the Super Bowl the last weekend in January if given the choice.

It's typical Miller, who is making a case that he's the best tight end in franchise history. His next touchdown catch will tie Elbie Nickel's team record for scoring grabs by a tight end (37). He's already third on Pittsburgh's all-time reception list (368) and should move into second at some point if he continues to stay healthy.

Miller shrugs off his ascension up the ladder, calling it merely a byproduct of longevity.

``If you stick around long enough, I guess those things come,'' he said. ``I've been here awhile and fortunately I've been with a good quarterback for all those years so I think that counts for a lot.''

So does working with a metronome-like consistency that sometimes gets taken for granted, just not by his quarterback, who believes Miller the best player at his position in the NFL.

``Absolutely,'' Roethlisberger said. ``People are going to argue with numbers, but all around tight end, no doubt about it.''

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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New York Rangers

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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New York Rangers

The Capitals enter the 2019-20 season looking for their fifth consecutive Metropolitan Division title.

But this could be the most challenging year yet. The bottom of the division has improved dramatically with offseason moves and the top of the division still has quality teams. It’s hard to figure who will crater and finish last. The winning team might not top 100 points.

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will take a look at each Metro team and where they stand with training camps opening in less than a month. Today: The New York Rangers.

In February 2018, the Rangers did a very un-Rangers-like thing. The team sent a letter to their fans declaring the plan to rebuild the team. Now just over a year later, it did not take long for New York to make a splash in the offseason again.

The Rangers landed the prize of free agency in Artemi Panarin, added free agent defenseman Jacob Trouba, drafted Kaapo Kakko with the second-overall pick in the draft and traded for prospect defenseman Adam Fox. They also managed to avoid a restricted free agent standoff with Pavel Buchnevich.

All these moves combined put the Rangers among the most improved teams in the league. It did not take long, but New York was able to shift its team from a group of veterans not good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup to a team full of youth and potential.

The future certainly looks brighter for this team in the future than it previously had, but despite all the improvements there are still plenty of questions about the present roster.

While New York certainly got younger, star goalie Henrik Lundqvist did not.

Lundqvist had an up-and-down season last year. His first half of last season was good enough to get him to the All-Star Game. He struggled in the latter half of the season and finished with a save percentage of only .907 and a GAA of 3.07. He is not a goalie who seems to do well taking a backseat, but Alexander Georgiev played well enough to earn more playing time. All of this makes it difficult to determine just what the split between the two netminders is going to be heading into this season.

In front of the crease, the additions of Trouba and Fox look like they will give the Rangers two new top-four defenseman to plug in. That should certainly help a team that ranked 23rd in the NHL last season in goals against per game with 3.26 and could potentially take some of the pressure off Lundqvist.

Mika Zibanejad returns as the team’s top center after what was easily his best season in the NHL with career highs in goals, assists and points. He was seen as a second-line center going into last season, but certainly took advantage of the larger role offered by New York. The concerns over whether he can handle a top-line role may not be as prevalent as last year, but I still seem him as a poor man's No. 1 center.

The offense is also likely to lose some of its depth before the start of the season due to salary cap constraints.

The Rangers sit with just $1 million remaining in projected cap space and still have RFAs Brendan Lemieux and Anthony Deangelo left to sign. When looking into what the team's options are for freeing up space, you have to wonder if players like Chris Kreider and Vladislav Namestnikov -- who are both entering the final year of their contracts -- could both be moved before the summer is over.

Panarin is a great addition and undeniably a superstar, but he cannot carry a team by himself. When he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets and became the offensive focal point of the team, he was only able to lead the Blue Jackets to a single playoff series win in his two seasons there. That was a much deeper team than the Rangers appear to be if they should lose Kreider or Namestnikov.

Money decisions will continue to loom over this team even after a decision is made on those players. The cap situation was dire enough that the Rangers bought out the remaining two years of Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract. While he was underperforming, the combined buyouts of Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner will leave New York with $5,394,444 of dead cap space in 2019-20 and nearly $7.5 million of dead cap space in 2020-21. These are not just bad contracts that can be packaged in a trade and sent away, that is dead cap space that the team is stuck with. That is a massive amount for a team that sure looks like it wants to compete for the playoffs sooner rather than later.

You still have to count the Rangers among the most improved teams this offseason, but the hill they had to climb and still must continue to climb may have been much steeper than many anticipated. There is still a lot of work left to do in Manhattan.

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Orioles Roundup: Orioles allow 13 unanswered runs in loss to Red Sox

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Orioles Roundup: Orioles allow 13 unanswered runs in loss to Red Sox

The O's continue to struggle against their AL East foes, including the Red Sox. The bats stayed hot, but the arms were unable to slow down the Boston lineup in Fenway. Here are the news and notes surrounding the team.

PLAYER UPDATES:

SP Ty Blach allowed five runs on five hits in 5.1 innings, walking three and striking out six. The Orioles' hot start is the only thing that saved him from being saddled with the loss.

OF Trey Mancini continued to torture the Red Sox, knocking in two runs with an early single to extend the Baltimore lead to 5-0. Mancini remains one home run shy of his first 30-homer season.

3B Renato Nunez crushed a three-run bomb in the first inning to start the scoring in Sunday's game, though it wound up his only hit of the afternoon.

C Chance Sisco has his afternoon end early after being hit in the groin by a foul tip. Team doctors are still evaluating the injury, and they hope to have more information by Monday. Manager Brandon Hyde is optimistic Sisco will avoid an Injured List stint.

INJURIES: 

C Chance Sisco: Groin, Day-to-Day

OF Dwight Smith Jr.:  Calf, expected to return in late August 

RP Josh Rogers: Elbow, out indefinitely

SP Alex Cobb: Back, out until 2020

DH Mark Trumbo: Knee, expected to return in September 

COMING UP:

Monday, 8/19: Royals at Orioles, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Tuesday, 8/20: Royals at Orioles, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Wednesday, 8/21: Royals at Orioles, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Source Credit: Rotoworld 

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