Steelers' Smith returning to form

By John Harris
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, August 25, 2008
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 84691.html

All by himself, Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith caved in the right side of the Minnesota Vikings' offensive line and sacked quarterback Gus Frerotte on his first pass attempt during Saturday night's 12-10 preseason win.

Smith's teammates fed off Smith's emotion the rest of the game -- and not a moment too soon.

As Smith goes, so goes the Steelers' defensive line.

Until Saturday night, the defensive line was moving in the wrong direction. But not anymore.

"He's the guy that gets us all fired up," nose tackle Chris Hoke said when asked about Smith's five-tackle, one-sack performance in the first half. "He's the leader of our defensive line."

The Steelers have been waiting for Smith to once again play like the guy who requires two offensive linemen to block him. The Steelers were willing to wait a little longer, if that's what it took, while Smith recovered from biceps surgery.

It's official: The wait is over.

When Smith is at his disruptive best, as he was against Minnesota -- shoving blockers back on their heels and making a beeline for the passer -- it opens things up for his teammates.

"Mentally, I just tried to focus on coming out of the game earlier and getting into it," Smith said.

The main benefactor Saturday night was left outside Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who lines up on Smith's side. Woodley also had five tackles and a sack in the first half.

Coincidence? Not a chance.

"He dominated their front," Hoke said when asked about Smith's impact. "It was just one of those things that fuels the fire. He was all excited, and everybody kind of rallies around that."

You wouldn't know it to watch him on the field, but Smith is one of the Steelers' most excitable players.

He wants to win as much as anyone on the team. But he doesn't always show how he feels.

"It's fun when we play hard and get after it and run around hitting people," Smith said. "That's the kind of football we're used to playing."

Smith, though, wasn't used to what he was experiencing.

The biceps injury knocked him off his game and left him feeling helpless. Last season was the first time he missed a game because of injury since entering the NFL in 1999.

Against Minnesota, Smith felt more like his old self.

"Every week seems to be getting better and better," Smith said. "I'm starting to feel more comfortable."

Likewise, the Steelers defense is feeling better with Smith back where he belongs.

John Harris is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.