View Full Version : Steelers brace for defensive end's absence

10-15-2009, 01:17 AM
Steelers brace for defensive end's absence

Thursday, October 15, 2009

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 48042.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_648042.html)

The Steelers will go to extremes, in a sense, as they embark on the daunting task of replacing defensive end Aaron Smith for the rest of the season.

At one end of the spectrum is Travis Kirschke, who is in his 13th NFL season and nearly retired after the Steelers won the Super Bowl Super Bowl XL almost four years ago, that is.

At the other end is Ziggy Hood, a precocious rookie who last April became just the second defensive lineman the Steelers have used a first-round draft pick on in the last 20 years.

The two will head what coach Mike Tomlin called a "committee," and it is charged with turning in the superb and selfless play that has long been Smith's signature.

The Steelers placed Smith on injured reserve Wednesday after X-rays revealed he had torn the rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

Smith had been playing with pain in that shoulder since the early part of the season, and it finally gave out in the Steelers' 28-20 win over the Lions last Sunday.

"He's pretty bummed," Kirschke said of Smith. "He says it probably won't sink in until game time and he's not out there."

The Steelers hope they also don't get a reality check Sunday when they host the Browns.

Smith has been an indispensible part of their defense strong safety Troy Polamalu called him "irreplaceable" and his loss could be a crippling one.

The Steelers have reason to be optimistic that they can cobble together a credible rotation among Kirschke, Hood and Nick Eason, who will dress for a game Sunday for the first time this season.

Kirschke started six games for the injured Brett Keisel at right defensive end last season, and the Steelers did not experience much of a drop-off, if any, with the 6-foot-3, 298-pounder in the lineup.

"He is the ultimate warrior," linebacker James Farrior said of Kirschke, who has been with the Steelers since 2004. "He has been in the league a long time and he is a crafty veteran. He knows how to play this game, and we have the utmost confidence in him."

The one issue with Kirschke, the oldest player on the Steelers, is a cantankerous back that is the product of the pounding to which the 35-year-old has subjected his body.

The biggest question mark with Hood, meanwhile, is whether he is ready for a more prominent role given how steep the learning curve is for rookie defensive ends.

As Tomlin said earlier this week of Hood, "He's not out of the oven yet."

The Steelers may have to crank up the oven to 450 degrees given Hood's talent and the need they now have at a position where they were deep prior to Smith's injury.

"I still have that rookie mentality of thinking too much rather than go out there and play," the 6-3, 300-pound Hood said. "Right now when I do get the opportunity to play, everything will start to come together."