Close and personal with Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith is one of the unheralded stars for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he will remain unheralded until the team changes schemes and unleashes this physical force from a true pass-rushing position. <br><br>Of course, that's not going to happen anytime soon, and Smith could care less. He's accepted his oxen-like lot in life and talks about the joy of playing football for the Steelers and playing for his family.

Interview with AARON SMITH
How much faster will the play become in the regular season?
They tell you it's faster but when you first come into the league you really don't see how it can be faster. When I first got here, we were in minicamp and we don't wear pads, so I thought 'Man, this is pretty easy. These guys aren't really that tough. I'm going to be alright.' Coach said 'When we get to camp, we'll put the pads on and it will pick up.' I really didn't believe him but when we got here it started picking up. I thought, 'Holy crap, these guys are really moving.' And then the coach said, 'It's going to pick up.' And I thought, 'It's going to pick up? I'm already going full speed. How the hell's it going to pick up in the game?' So when we got to the game, it went faster. So I got in and played with the rookies. Then we got to the first year I played in a game. And they said, 'You'd better wake up. It's going to pick up in that first regular-season game.' And I thought, 'How the hell can it go any faster? I was going as hard as I could in the preseason games. Ain't these veterans going as hard as they can too?' Hell no. It picked up a whole 'nother level. It just keeps picking up.

Do you see other rookies being surprised by the speed of the game?
I don't know about that. The hardest part about this game as a rookie is to run full speed and then think while you're running full speed. When I came from a 4-3, you used to run full speed and I was just told to react. Now, in this defense, at this level, there's so much going on. You have to run full speed and read what's going on around you and react and analyze while you're running full speed. That's not an easy thing to do. It takes a little while to learn it.

So what was the thought process of the play you blew up the other night early in the game?
Well the first play was the lead away from me, and he took off so fast - (Todd) Wade's a pretty good athlete - he took off flat on me. I still kind of closed the gap and made the back cut back but I was thinking, 'Man, he got out of there quick.' So the next play I was on my horse. I knew I had to get out of there.

Is Dick LeBeau holding a lot back?
We don't get enough snaps to tell you if it's vanilla or not. The first game I got 15 snaps. I don't know how many we got the second game. I wasn't out there a whole lot, and there were a lot of three and outs.

That's the idea isn't it?
Oh, that's the whole key. I'll tell you what's nice is the way our offense held the ball on Saturday, too. That helps us a lot. I enjoyed watching every bit of them running the ball and running that clock out.

Career-wise, what level are you trying to get to now?
The next step. I want to take it to the level of being an All-Pro I think. That's the next level for me. I don't want to be one of those paper All-Pros. I want everybody to really consider me an All-Pro. Sometimes guys get voted and people want to know what he's doing in there. I don't want to be that guy. I want to be somebody everybody respects around the league.

But aren't you the guy who right now is respected around the league but because of the scheme you're playing in hasn't been voted into the Pro Bowl?
That's why I want it that much more. I want to prove it can be done.

If you make the Pro Bowl it won't be a paper thing, will it?
No. That's why I want it so bad. If you can do it here in this scheme, I think that really says something.

Didn't you have the numbers to do that a few years ago?
Yeah. But that was really the first year people started noticing me. The year before that I started but didn't even play on dime, only first and second down.

People know you now. Would putting up big numbers this year get you there?
Career-wise, sometimes it takes a year like that for people to notice you. Coach Cowher once said sometimes it's not your best year that you had when you get to the Pro Bowl, but a year or two later.

Which was your best year?
I don't know. I think I've gotten better each year personally. Really, I don't put a whole lot of stock in those numbers. It's nice, and for the Pro Bowl you need those numbers.

Since Casey Hampton made it last year, does it give you hope?
Yeah. I was happy one of us made it. I thought Kimo (von Oelhoffen) really deserved it. I was happy for Casey, but Kimo had the numbers and played well. I was shocked that he didn't get it.

Kimo said he'd draft you first out of all players. You have his respect.
Yeah. And I respect Kimo a lot. Kimo's taught me a lot, a whole lot. I've learned so much from Kimo about playing this game, blocks and techniques, you know, stuff like that. It's funny, I've learned stuff and taken it and changed it, because we're such different players, me and Kimo. Really, you watch us and we'll play the same technique and each of us will play it a little different than the other, just because he's a different type of physical player than I am. I'm a little longer, a little lanky. He's a little stronger, beefier. I take in so much. He's taught me about angles, what to look for, stuff like that. I really respect Kimo a lot. I mean, to be here 10 years and to come out here and practice the way he does and to go out and play the way he does says something. I told him, if I'm 10 years running around like that I'll be thankful. I really will be thankful. This will be my sixth and I can tell. I have aches and stuff in the morning and stuff like that. To do it 10 years is amazing.

What's it like on the line? I assume Casey gets double and triple-teamed. Are you getting any of that?
Ah, we do get our fair share. I mean, we have some games where it seems like me and Kimo get double-teamed quite a bit. They focus on the run. Really, the defense starts with Casey in my honest opinion. Casey holds that point right there. That's where everything starts. If Casey holds the point and takes on a double-team, that requires at least one of us to work one-on-one with somebody on the run, and then the backers and everybody else. In my opinion, Casey is the foundation and it just pyramids its way up.

Are you getting more attention lately?
Some teams. I think it depends a lot of time on the scheme, how teams want to attack us.

Are you ever able to just be a pass-rusher?
Yeah, when it's third-and-long, yeah. In obvious passing situations, I play in the nickel and dime and that's all pass rush.

But they move you further inside don't they?
Yeah, sometimes I get over the nose, over the center.

Can you get to the quarterback from there?
Sometimes. It depends on the blocking scheme. It's not the easiest place to start from.

What percentage of the snaps do you play on defense?
I think I've probably taken two plays off a game over the last three years.

Is that tiring?
Oh, yeah. It catches up with you. That's the thing that's nice about having (Brett) Keisel and (Travis) Kirschke, some quality back-ups. Hopefully we can come off the field a little bit more and that will keep us a lot fresher late in the game, especially on those third-down situations. We can rotate guys a little bit more and get better pressure because it takes a lot of energy to rush the passer. Playing 70 snaps a game out of 72 snaps, it's going to catch up with you.

No wonder you liked that time of possession by the offense the other night.
Yeah. That really is big for us.

Now what about - and tell me if I'm prying - your two children now. How has that changed you as a football player and as a person?
You know, someone told me once that if you're not motivated the day you have a child, you'll never be motivated a day in your life. And I think that's exact. It sums it up right there. My children, my wife, they're everything to me. That's the reason I get up in the morning; that's the reason why I go through everything. That's what keeps me going. When I have a hard day out here, I just remember why I'm out here and why I'm doing this.

So on play No. 69, when you're really tired, do you remember it then?
Yes, that's exactly right. It's happened before. You get out here in practice and you're tired, and that creeps in your mind. My daughter's funny because I'll talk to her on the phone and she'll say, 'You work hard da-da.' So I always remember that when I'm having one of those days, I hear that in my head, 'You work hard da-da.'

Now, you know, a lot of football players are living the American dream. They've got money, cars, girls, parties. But you've opted for another route.
For me, this is what it's about, my family. I'm playing a game that I love and I enjoy my job. And when I'm done with it during the day I go home and spend it with my family. That's what it's all about for me.

Your workmanlike attitude kind of fits your job description, doesn't it?
Yeah. It goes right along with it. Maybe some guys enjoy partying, but my fun is when I go home and play with my daughter and my son and I sit down and talk with my wife and we joke and laugh. That's fun for me. I don't go out and drink. I don't go to clubs. I don't go to bars. It's just not me.

Don't you feel like you're missing anything?
No, not at all. Not at all.

Is home in Pittsburgh?
We have a house in Colorado, too, but we tend to spend more time here. And we're considering - because this is such a great place to raise children - we're considering that when our children get older maybe staying here for good.

What would you be doing if you weren't playing football?
I really don't know. I never had a back-up plan. Maybe that's part of the reason I succeeded because I never had any other options. I figured if I didn't make it, I'd deal with it then, but I never had a back-up plan. Maybe that's what made me work so much harder. I don't know. You know, it's funny, my coach in (Northern) Colorado always said he'd rather recruit the kid who came from a poor family with six brothers and sisters with two bedrooms, because when that kid came to college he couldn't go back home. He had nothing to go home to, so he'd work hard and stay in school, whereas some kids had something to go home to maybe wouldn't work as hard and stick around. You don't want to go home and sleep in bed with four brothers and sisters, so you'd want to stay in college. That's the luxury life to you.

Does that fit your description? Being poor?
Yeah, we grew up pretty poor. Dan was unemployed since I was three, four years old. Mom worked. You know, it's funny, I say we were poor when I was growing up but I never knew I was poor. You don't know you're poor until you go to someone else's house and you realize you don't have all that food, that nice couch, that nice TV. That's when you realize you're poor. I didn't know I was poor until I got older and kids started making fun of my clothes, my shoes and stuff. Growing up, I never noticed.

Are you worried you're going to over compensate and spoil your kids?
I already do. And I work too hard not to. I've worked hard all my life to get to this point and my family deserves everything I can give them. Now, I don't want to go overboard, but they deserve everything I can give them, every chance I can give them: college, education, good schools, clothes, sports, anything. You know I didn't play sports until I was in high school because I couldn't afford it. That 60 bucks for joining the YALP league was too much; buying shoes was too much. My first pair of cleats in high school football was from a Play It Again Sports place. They were the Ridells, and I had never even heard of Ridell. And they were so old, they were all leather with no insoles, just the plastic. There was nothing to them. I had to get insoles from another pair of shoes to put them in the cleat and then played. And they were a size too big, too.

That's what you needed for your feet last year. How are your feet doing this year, alright?
Good. I started out camp with different cleats this year and I'm really focusing on not letting them get bad.

Last question: What do you see in the team this year?
I see a lot of guys that want to work and win. It's preseason but I have seen a lot of people willing to work and do whatever it takes to win right now. As long as we do that, I think we're going to have a good team. I think this team's very hungry.

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