How Long Can Old Lions Hang On?

The Steelers have the NFL's oldest defense, and cracks are becoming evident this preseason. Can they hang on? Are young reserves ready to come to the rescue? Read on ...

PITTSBURGH -- After an admittedly poor performance in his first preseason game this year, Aaron Smith played well enough Saturday night to take a frisky jab at a reporter.

"You know the way you guys are always talking about me being old?" he asked. "Well, I'm thinking that the next time I make a play I'll break out my walker and do a little celebration with it."

Smith then performed a sample with his two shaking hands using his imaginary walker while taking slow, short steps.

Kind of like the way Smith played against Washington.

Zing!

Or, really, kind of like the way James Harrison ran after Atlanta QB Matt Ryan the other night.

Yeah. Not so funny anymore, because, let's face it, this defense is old.

A breakdown of all defenses by ESPN.com's Mike Sando last week had the Steelers as the oldest in the league. Sando checked ages of starters and backups. Had he used only starters the Steelers would've won in a landslide.

The Steelers' starters' average age is 31.6 years old, but it hasn't shown yet – at least when the games have counted. But if the snapshots of Smith and Harrison this preseason are any indication, there are cracks in the foundation.

Smith, though, has rebounded.

"Yeah, I felt good the other night," he said. "I've still got a ways to go – obviously I need some more snaps – but yeah I felt much better. My knee felt really good. Staying off that field turf probably helped a lot."

The Steelers spent an unusually large amount of time on their turf field at St. Vincent College due to heavy rainfall during camp. It had Smith's knee throbbing by the start of the preseason schedule.

"I could barely get in my stance," he said. "And then it was hard to push off and plant on it. Not to make any excuses. I don't want to do that."

Smith sat out the following practice week and game, but returned and played much better in the third preseason game last Saturday night. Unfortunately for the Steelers, things didn't go nearly that well for Harrison, who wrote the next day that his recovery is taking longer than he expected.

On bright side, perhaps, was the performance of Harrison's backup, second-year man Jason Worilds, who played three series in the second half, rushed the passer eight times, and was kept from applying pressure only once. Worilds hit home once, and his hit on Chris Redman forced an incompletion straight into the ground.

"I got a chance and took advantage of it," said Worilds.. "Atlanta came out and passed the ball more than other teams. I got a chance; took advantage of it."

His burst on the way to the quarterback was obvious; his technique much improved.

"I've been working on it, taking in coaching, trying to fix some of the things I wasn't doing in college," Worilds said. "One day it'll all come together."

Until that day, the Steelers will depend on their old lions – and their walkers.

NOTES – Coach Mike Tomlin announced that Charlie Batch will start at quarterback and Doug Legursky will start at right guard in Thursday night's preseason finale at Carolina. Tomlin also ruled CB Ike Taylor (thumb), OLB Chris Carter (hamstring) and WR Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring) out of the game, and called ILB James Farrior, SS Troy Polamalu, NT Casey Hampton, CB Bryant McFadden and C Maurkice Pouncey questionable.


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