Steelers’ defensive end positioned to lead on the line
For The Tribune-Democrat
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The rumor going around the South Side had Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell calling last Sunday’s game “the best of Aaron Smith’s career.”

Was it?

“I was impressed,” Mitchell said. “But that’s what I expected from him. He played well, but he’s still got a better game in him.”

Mitchell says that Smith “has probably had one sub-par game in 10 years.” Last week, the blue-collar defensive end had the third multi-sack game in those 10 years. What did Smith think?

“I had some mistakes. I didn’t play perfect,” he said. “I guess when I play that perfect game I’ll let you know. But I try not to get too caught up in that stuff, really. I’m always trying to get better every day, so I try not to grade my best, my worst.”

Today, the Steelers will be without Smith’s bookend mate, Brett Keisel. He’ll be replaced by the rotating triumvirate of Nick Eason, Travis Kirschke and Orpheus Roye.

“I think we’ll run the same stuff and those guys will do a great job,” Smith said. “That’s the reason you keep older guys like that.”

Roye started ahead of Smith in 1999 when Smith was a rookie backup.

“O taught me to stay calm and keep my confidence up,” Smith said. “He got me on the field a few times, came out when he wasn’t tired, and showed me some plays. I always appreciated that from O.”

“I remember him being like me,” recalled Roye. “My first year here was tough and I didn’t want him to go through what I went through. A lot of veteran guys didn’t want to help me out. They didn’t want to tell me nothing, so I had to learn the hard way. So when Aaron came in, I tried to help him out because he’s part of the team and you want to help guys out.”

Who were the guys?

“Brentson Buckner, Ray Seals, Kevin Henry. Those guys treated me like a rookie,” Roye said. “The one who helped me out the most was Greg Lloyd. He kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes.”

Roye said he’s not surprised at how good Smith’s become.

“I knew he had potential,” Roye said. “It was good to be here when he was a rookie, go away, and come back and see how much he has grown. It’s like seeing a child grow up into a man.”

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Dawkins done?: Brian Dawkins has been named to six Pro Bowls, but the soon-to-be 35-year-old Eagles free safety is slowing down.

Steelers fans saw it this preseason when Santonio Holmes easily beat him for a touchdown. The Philadelphia papers are writing Dawkins off this week after Cowboys tight end Jason Witten caught seven passes for 110 yards last Monday night.

“I think he was able to take advantage of what they were trying to do,” Steelers tight end Heath Miller said of Witten. “He caught a couple hots inside, and he did a pretty good job wide, and the quarterback did a good job getting the ball out.”

Is the free safety responsible for the tight end?

“I don’t think so,” Miller said. “It’s rare that I’m covered by the same player the entire game, so it’s hard to imagine he would be locked up on Witten the entire game.”

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Roster move: The Steelers waived running back Gary Russell on Saturday morning and activated undrafted rookie free agent Patrick Bailey of Duke from the practice squad. Bailey will likely replace Donovan Woods on special teams and the Steelers will likely attempt to re-sign Russell on Monday.

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Deep thoughts with Deebo: Last week, James Harrison mentioned his preference for watching cartoons instead of sports highlights. This week, he was asked about his favorite cartoons.

“I don’t have a favorite,” said the Steelers’ ferocious outside linebacker. “I’ll watch any cartoon.”

Something violent like Ren & Stimpy?

“No. I don’t like them too much,” Harrison said. “I like just regular old Tom & Jerry, old-school stuff like Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner, all of that. Yogi Bear, stuff like that. All the late-night stuff.”

Does Harrison have a favorite superhero?

“No, but I watch it all, stuff like Batman, whatever’s on. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a cartoon.”