View Full Version : Steelers' Smith continues to hurdle obstacles

08-06-2011, 12:42 AM
Steelers' Smith continues to hurdle obstacles
Saturday, August 6, 2011
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 50319.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_750319.html)

The words didn't fit the venue a small patch of shaded grass outside a cafeteria. They sounded more like something that should be boomed out to the masses, with the theatrics that accompany a motivational speaker's delivery.

"No matter what the adversity or obstacle is, you can overcome it," Aaron Smith said, "and you just keep going. It's just the way I've lived my life."

That credo guided the Steelers' veteran defensive end back to St. Vincent College for his 13th, but not necessarily final, training camp.

Smith is back after suffering a third season-ending injury in the past four years. After missing the final 13 games in 2010 he partially tore his left triceps in a game at Miami Smith will be among the more scrutinized Steelers this preseason.

That is due to the confluence of age (35), recent injury history and Smith's standing as perhaps the standard for 3-4 defensive ends when he is healthy.

"Ol' Aaron's hanging in there," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said with a chuckle. "He's a passionate, veteran guy that loves to play, loves to practice."

Smith has been getting most of the repetitions with the first-team defense, and he appears to be close to full strength, even though the NFL lockout prevented him from rehabilitating his left arm at Steelers headquarters this offseason.

"I've felt good," said Smith, who also has torn his rotator cuff and biceps since 2007. "There's a little apprehension, I think, every time I've had injuries to come back the first day. But once you go through it, you get a little more confident each time you do something."

"He's looking like he hasn't lost a step," defensive end Ziggy Hood said. "Once we get in the preseason, I think he's going to be back to where he was."

If that is the case, it likely means less playing time for Hood.

Hood, the Steelers' 2009 first-round pick, came into his own last season after Smith went down. Hood started the final 10 regular-season games and finished with 20 tackles and three sacks.

Hood said he and Smith are "pushing each other" in camp. But in a measure of respect, Hood said he has no problem accepting a lesser role if Smith is healthy.

"Splitting time or him starting would not upset me at all because we're trying to make this team better," Hood said.

The 6-foot-5, 298-pound Smith has been a major reason the Steelers have been arguably the NFL's best run-stopping team during the past decade. Smith also is ninth on the team's all-time sacks list (44) despite rarely rushing the quarterback off the edge.

One question regarding Smith, a father of five who already has two Super Bowl rings, is why he would put himself through arduous injury rehabilitation for a third time since Tomlin became head coach.

"I just love playing football," said Smith, a fourth-round pick out of Northern Colorado in 1999. "I'm not playing for the money anymore. I just love coming out here and being a part of the team. My ego's not so big that I feel like I have to play every snap. Whatever they think is best for this team, I'm willing to do."

Smith is in the final year of a five-year deal he will receive $4.5 million this season but said retirement is not something he has pondered.

"Obviously someday I'm not going to be here," Smith said. "It's the reality of this business, but I think I'll be the type of guy that you'll have to run out of here."

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08-08-2011, 05:08 PM
Aging but effective line still key to Steelers' 'D'

Monday, August 8, 2011


Aging, but effective
Chaz Palla | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

No one compares the current Pittsburgh defensive front with that of the Steel Curtain.

There are no doggedly menacing pass rushers such as Dwight White and L.C. Greenwood. No one alters the opposition's game plan as did Joe Greene and Ernie Holmes.

The Steelers, though, have a wealth of experience in the trenches. It's an aging yet effective defensive front without an awe-inspiring stat sheet, but its unique skills suit a defensive scheme designed to funnel running backs to its ball-hawking linebackers.

The Steelers' linebackers - Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior and James Harrison - combined for 246 solo tackles last season. In contrast, six defensive linemen - including defensive end Brett Keisel and nose tackle Casey Hampton - totaled 68 solos and seven sacks.

The numbers don't mean a thing to defensive line coach John Mitchell.

"A lot of guys in this league want to make the Pro Bowl and worry about sacks," Mitchell said. "My guys would rather get to the Super Bowl than make the Pro Bowl - that's the difference.

"We do all the dirty work. That's why our linebackers are good. We keep them free, and they'll get the sacks.

"Our first and only priority is to stop the run," Mitchell added. "It's why we have happy linebackers. Our defensive front knows the linebackers are going to make the play."

The Steelers had the best run defense in the NFL, allowing only 51.7 rushing yards during the 2010 regular season. They were second in total defense behind AFC rival Baltimore, which hosts the Steelers in the Sept. 11 season opener.

The defensive front, said Harrison, is largely responsible for the Steelers having the top-rated defense in the NFL twice in the past four seasons. The Steelers win far more trench wars than they lose, partly because of their experience.

"It all starts up front with our defense," Harrison said. "The defensive line helps the inside linebackers more than the outside linebackers. The defensive linemen have to be unselfish and sacrifice their numbers -- something they've been doing for a long time."

Still, time and age will soon become an issue for the Steelers' defensive line. Hampton, Keisel, defensive end Aaron Smith and nose tackle Chris Hoke all have at least 10 years experience.

"When people talk about our guys being old, I ask, 'Old compared to what?' Mitchell quipped. "Football-wise, they're not old.

"I'm old, but does that make me less of a coach than I was last year? I don't buy it into it. If they take care of their bodies, it doesn't matter.

"Smith has been in this league a lot of years, but he's not an old player," Mitchell said. "He hasn't had to play every snap."


The Steelers' defense was on the field for 1,004 snaps last season, including the Super Bowl. Other AFC defensive teams average nearly 1,500 snaps from scrimmage.

"We don't have to plug someone in because our experience puts us ahead of the curve, especially with the lockout," Hampton said. "We have been in this system a long time, and it works."

Coach Mike Tomlin and Mitchell recognized during the NFL Draft that the Steelers' defensive line is stacked with more warhorses than thoroughbreds. So, they made former Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward their first pick.

Heyward, along with third-year veterans Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon, add depth to the defensive line. The expectations are high for Heyward, but Mitchell figures the former Buckeye will discover it difficult to transition from college to the NFL.

"When he was at Ohio State, he was the whale with a lot of minnows," Mitchell said. "Now, he's a minnow against a lot of whales. He needs to forget everything he learned at Ohio State.

"(Heyward) is going to learn to play football the 'Steelers way.' We have thrown a lot of things at him and the rest of our young linemen, and it's tough to grasp."

Heyward appears to be gaining confidence. He wasn't impressed with his performance in the first two scrimmages, but he did help the defense claim a 4-3 victory in Saturday's goal-line drill.

"At some point, we'll replace some of these veterans," Mitchell said. "It won't be today, tomorrow or next year."

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