Return of The Big A

For the first time since 1999, the Steelers have played without defensive end Aaron Smith. He's back just in time for the latest big game in the AFC North Division.

PITTSBURGH – The sound of Aaron Smith whacking the blocking sled rhythmically interrupted the interview Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was giving a group of reporters after Thursday's practice.

"Don't you think," LeBeau was asked, "that he knows how to do that by now?"

LeBeau chuckled.

"You know," LeBeau said, "Tiger Woods hits 400 golf balls a day. I think he knows how to hit a golf ball, but he's still out there hitting them. You can never have too many fundamentals."

Smith understands the concept. The big defensive end had played in 131 consecutive games, counting playoffs, since being activated at the end of his rookie season in 1999. The streak ended two games ago after Smith suffered a sprained MCL against the Denver Broncos. That was the first time Smith had been forced into street clothes since his rookie season. From the outside, he watched the Steelers win both games while giving up fewer points and fewer yards per game than when he was active.

"Everybody's expendable in this league," said Smith.

Is that why he was out there hitting the sled with the practice squadders?

"Well I'm hitting the sled because it don't matter how many times I've done it in my life, it'll never be perfect," he said.

"In this business, as soon as you think you've figured one thing out and move on to the next thing to work on, then you're going back to the thing you thought you used to know how to do. You're never going to be steady in something. You're always constantly trying to work and get better."

That's the definition of Aaron Smith, who, at the age of 31, is finally receiving the respect his career has deserved. Not that Smith would know he's being respected.

"I don't read the media stuff so I wouldn't know what they say about me," Smith said. "I wouldn't have a clue what they say about me."

Asked if he'd been playing at a career peak before he was injured, Smith referred his inquisitor to someone who does have a clue.

"Aaron Smith is unquestionably one of the better defensive linemen in the National Football League," said LeBeau. "We're always going to be a better defense with him playing than without him. So, having said that, I welcome him back anytime he can get there."

The Steelers won both games without Smith and in them allowed an average of 10 points and 200 yards. With Smith, the Steelers were 4-2 and allowed an average of 13 points and 250 yards per game. But in those games, the Steelers stopped the run, and that's Smith's primary responsibility on the strong side of their 3-4 defense. With Smith, the Steelers allowed 3.7 yards per carry; without him they allowed 4.4.

"Now, I don't know if they wouldn't have given that up with me in there," Smith said. "I think the guys played pretty well that were in there. I'd like to say that they need me but I don't know if they really do."

Mr. LeBeau knows that answer.

"He only knows one way to do everything and that's 100 percent," LeBeau said. "He's very big and very strong. He's a strong man and he plays strong."

NOTES – Santonio Holmes was a surprise scratch at Thursday's practice with a hamstring injury. Also missing were Ryan Clark (spleen), Clint Kriewaldt (calf) and Jerame Tuman (back). Holmes expects to play on Sunday.

For a transcript of the interview with Aaron Smith click here.


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\r\n\r\nPITTSBURGH – The sound of Aaron Smith whacking the blocking sled rhythmically interrupted the interview Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was giving a group of reporters after Thursday's practice.\r\n\r\n

\"Don't you think,\" LeBeau was asked, \"that he knows how to do that by now?\"\r\n\r\n

LeBeau chuckled.\r\n\r\n

\"You know,\" LeBeau said, \"Tiger Woods hits 400 golf balls a day. I think he knows how to hit a golf ball, but he's still out there hitting them. You can never have too many fundamentals.\"\r\n\r\n

Smith understands the concept. The big defensive end had played in 131 consecutive games, counting playoffs, since being activated at the end of his rookie season in 1999. The streak ended two games ago after Smith suffered a sprained MCL against the Denver Broncos. That was the first time Smith had been forced into street clothes since his rookie season. From the outside, he watched the Steelers win both games while giving up fewer points and fewer yards per game than when he was active.\r\n\r\n

\"Everybody's expendable in this league,\" said Smith.\r\n\r\n

Is that why he was out there hitting the sled with the practice squadders?\r\n\r\n

\"Well I'm hitting the sled because it don't matter how many times I've done it in my life, it'll never be perfect,\" he said.\r\n\r\n

\"In this business, as soon as you think you've figured one thing out and move on to the next thing to work on, then you're going back to the thing you thought you used to know how to do. You're never going to be steady in something. You're always constantly trying to work and get better.\"\r\n\r\n

That's the definition of Aaron Smith, who, at the age of 31, is finally receiving the respect his career has deserved. Not that Smith would know he's being respected.\r\n\r\n

\"I don't read the media stuff so I wouldn't know what they say about me,\" Smith said. \"I wouldn't have a clue what they say about me.\"\r\n\r\n

Asked if he'd been playing at a career peak before he was injured, Smith referred his inquisitor to someone who does have a clue.\r\n\r\n

\"Aaron Smith is unquestionably one of the better defensive linemen in the National Football League,\" said LeBeau. \"We're always going to be a better defense with him playing than without him. So, having said that, I welcome him back anytime he can get there.\"\r\n\r\n

The Steelers won both games without Smith and in them allowed an average of 10 points and 200 yards. With Smith, the Steelers were 4-2 and allowed an average of 13 points and 250 yards per game. But in those games, the Steelers stopped the run, and that's Smith's primary responsibility on the strong side of their 3-4 defense. With Smith, the Steelers allowed 3.7 yards per carry; without him they allowed 4.4.\r\n\r\n

\"Now, I don't know if they wouldn't have given that up with me in there,\" Smith said. \"I think the guys played pretty well that were in there. I'd like to say that they need me but I don't know if they really do.\"\r\n\r\n

Mr. LeBeau knows that answer.\r\n\r\n

\"He only knows one way to do everything and that's 100 percent,\" LeBeau said. \"He's very big and very strong. He's a strong man and he plays strong.\"\r\n\r\n

NOTES – Santonio Holmes was a surprise scratch at Thursday's practice with a hamstring injury. Also missing were Ryan Clark (spleen), Clint Kriewaldt (calf) and Jerame Tuman (back). Holmes expects to play on Sunday.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n

For a transcript of the interview with Aaron Smith click here.","mobileBody":" PITTSBURGH – The sound of Aaron Smith whacking the blocking sled rhythmically interrupted the interview Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was giving a group of reporters after Thursday's practice.

\"Don't you think,\" LeBeau was asked, \"that he knows how to do that by now?\"

LeBeau chuckled.

\"You know,\" LeBeau said, \"Tiger Woods hits 400 golf balls a day. I think he knows how to hit a golf ball, but he's still out there hitting them. You can never have too many fundamentals.\"

Smith understands the concept. The big defensive end had played in 131 consecutive games, counting playoffs, since being activated at the end of his rookie season in 1999. The streak ended two games ago after Smith suffered a sprained MCL against the Denver Broncos. That was the first time Smith had been forced into street clothes since his rookie season. From the outside, he watched the Steelers win both games while giving up fewer points and fewer yards per game than when he was active.

\"Everybody's expendable in this league,\" said Smith.

Is that why he was out there hitting the sled with the practice squadders?

\"Well I'm hitting the sled because it don't matter how many times I've done it in my life, it'll never be perfect,\" he said.

\"In this business, as soon as you think you've figured one thing out and move on to the next thing to work on, then you're going back to the thing you thought you used to know how to do. You're never going to be steady in something. You're always constantly trying to work and get better.\"

That's the definition of Aaron Smith, who, at the age of 31, is finally receiving the respect his career has deserved. Not that Smith would know he's being respected.

\"I don't read the media stuff so I wouldn't know what they say about me,\" Smith said. \"I wouldn't have a clue what they say about me.\"

Asked if he'd been playing at a career peak before he was injured, Smith referred his inquisitor to someone who does have a clue.

\"Aaron Smith is unquestionably one of the better defensive linemen in the National Football League,\" said LeBeau. \"We're always going to be a better defense with him playing than without him. So, having said that, I welcome him back anytime he can get there.\"

The Steelers won both games without Smith and in them allowed an average of 10 points and 200 yards. With Smith, the Steelers were 4-2 and allowed an average of 13 points and 250 yards per game. But in those games, the Steelers stopped the run, and that's Smith's primary responsibility on the strong side of their 3-4 defense. With Smith, the Steelers allowed 3.7 yards per carry; without him they allowed 4.4.

\"Now, I don't know if they wouldn't have given that up with me in there,\" Smith said. \"I think the guys played pretty well that were in there. I'd like to say that they need me but I don't know if they really do.\"

Mr. LeBeau knows that answer.

\"He only knows one way to do everything and that's 100 percent,\" LeBeau said. \"He's very big and very strong. He's a strong man and he plays strong.\"

NOTES – Santonio Holmes was a surprise scratch at Thursday's practice with a hamstring injury. Also missing were Ryan Clark (spleen), Clint Kriewaldt (calf) and Jerame Tuman (back). Holmes expects to play on Sunday.

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