Q&A: Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith hasn't missed a practice in his return from another serious arm injury. SCI publisher Jim Wexell talked to the Steelers DE about his health, his game, his life, and his legacy.

Aaron Smith, defensive end, Pittsburgh Steelers

Q: You haven't missed a practice yet. How are you feeling?

A: I'm feeling good. It's coming along. Any time you have an injury, it takes time. The injury part's healed but it's just a matter of getting the confidence to use it the way you did before.

Q: How is the confidence level?

A: It's coming. I don't care how much you try to talk yourself into doing stuff, your body will naturally defend itself from certain things, so you have to get past that point.

Q: Extending your arms off the snap has been your trademark, hasn't it?

A: I think so. It's hard to say, but yeah I've always used my arms well.

Q: So is there fear that you're facing the end of your career?

A: I think there's a little uncertainty in the sense that you don't know how it's going to play out. Not many of us get to choose how it plays out, or get to choose that moment, so in that sense, yeah, there's a little uncertainty. But my approach is to go day to day and see what happens, just keep your head down, put one foot in front of the next. You never know what's going to happen.

Q: You want to play a couple more years, don't you?

A: Yeah. I'll play until they tell me I can't play.

Q: The Steelers could've lowered their cap number with a one-year extension. Does it concern you that they didn't?

A: No. Someone else asked me about cap numbers, but I don't think about that stuff. I'm more concerned about how I'm playing than anything else. But, nah, it doesn't bother me. It's business.

Q: They should be cautious, shouldn't they?

A: Yeah. This is a team they're running, a business, and, yeah, you definitely protect yourself and watch over yourself. You never know what's going to happen.

Q: How did you approach the offseason?

A: I really just focused on getting the strength back, but not overworking it. I think sometimes when you rehab you overwork so hard that by the time you reach camp your body's just so stressed out that it's hard to bounce back. So I just really tried to be smart about the rehab, let the body take its time but yet worked hard enough that I thought I'd be ready to play football.

Q: Um, I had a good question. I forgot it.

A: I don't have the answer for it. We'll just say yes.

Q: You didn't lose your job. It was obvious you were still playing at a high level at the time of the injury. Tell me how you thought you were playing.

A: Obviously you get older and some things you don't do quite the same way, but I think you get smarter. You do some things better that you didn't do so well before. Coach [Dick] LeBeau told me every year you should become a better player. ‘Even though you get older, the older you get you should be a better player.' I think I had done that over the years. I think last year I was a better player than I was four years ago. You just learn things, you see things, the game becomes easier to understand. You just should get better every year you played.

Q: So, you aren't looking at this year as the potential last go-around? The grand-circuit tour into the sunset?

A: The grand-circuit tour?

Q: You know, you go to Baltimore and they give you a nice round of applause out of respect.

A: Oh, yeah (laughs). I'm sure they they'd bring out a parade for me. No, obviously thoughts have crossed my mind, but really I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't make any of those decisions in the middle of anything, let alone right now when you're feeling bad or you have a bad day or you have a good day. I really believe when the moment comes, the coaching staff will let me know. They'll tell me, ‘Aaron, you're just not going to be able to play this game.'

Q: That would be very hard for you, but also for them.

A: I know, but I think I trust them enough and I think we have a good enough relationship that they wouldn't lie. We've been around each other long enough. The way we've done business, I think they'd be honest and just tell me, you know, ‘Aaron, I don't think you should play this game anymore.' And it would be hard. No matter who it comes from it's not going to be easy. But I think I could take it from them as opposed to some other way, or me making the choice, ‘Oh, I can't do it.' Because my biggest fear is I retire and two, three years down the road I think I could still play. I don't ever want to leave a what-if. I don't want to get to be 50 and have questions. That's really kind of the way I've lived my life. I tell my kids this: The world is full of people who have failed because they never try. And that's what I believe in.

Q: I don't know about your kids, but I'm inspired.

A: I really believe that. How many people have failed in life because they were afraid to try? They're just scared to try. In my scary moments, I've jumped two feet in.

Q: Is this decision to come back from another injury an example of that?

A: To be honest with you this isn't easy on me or my family for me to be here every day. It's not like this is simple. I mean, yeah, I love football, but there are other factors besides loving football.

Q: I have one child, so it's easy for me to make time for my career, but you have four.

A: I've gotta house full. It never stops. We call it Team Chaos. When I'm home, it never stops. I just called my wife and there are six million things going on today. I didn't even get to talk to her. She passed the phone around and I talked to each kid and they're passing it around and arguing and yelling and fighting and eating breakfast, changing diapers, that type of stuff.

Q: That's the way you like it, isn't it?

A: I think a full house is a rich man. It's not easy, don't get me wrong. There are times that are very hard, but when you have those kids laughing and playing –. There's never a dull moment in my house. I never have to say, ‘Man, what am I going to do today?'

Q: The day says, ‘What am I going to do with Aaron?'

A: That's right. This is another thing I've learned from a coach: There's nothing better than pouring your life into someone else. So you pour your life into your kids and when I'm done with my life, I can look back and say, ‘I poured my life into my kids. That's what I have left.'

Q: And you'll have a great legacy here. In the 1970s we used to count the guys who played on all the championship teams, the bedrocks. Look what's happened to you: three Super Bowls.

A: I know. I've been blessed. This here has gone far beyond anything and everything I ever dreamed of possibly accomplishing in this business.

Q: It's not like you lucked into it. You're one of the hardest working guys here. Even now you're coming back from serious injury without taking a day off. When are you going to take a day off?

A: Whenever he gives the team a day off.

Q: So you're not going to take a precaution day?

A: Not unless it gets a little sore or something. People have asked if I've wanted to take a break. No, I don't want to take a break. I'm here to play football. This is what I do for a living. This is me. When I'm done, there ain't going to be no more of this.

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