Smith on IR, replaced by Sunny Harris

PITTSBURGH – The Steelers placed defensive Aaron Smith on Injured Reserve late Tuesday afternoon with a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, meaning the rock of their defensive line will miss the rest of the season.

Replacing Smith on the roster is Sunny Harris, a rookie out of Oregon whom the Steelers had drafted in the sixth round, but later cut.

Harris was claimed by the Carolina Panthers, played in two games, was waived, and re-signed to their practice squad. The Steelers had offered Harris a spot on their practice squad, but the Panthers offered more money and Harris stayed in Charlotte.

Harris, of course, chose to be a part of the Steelers' active roster Tuesday evening and left the Panthers' practice squad.

Born in Pensacola, Fla., Harris grew up in Pittsburg, Ca., and chose to play collegiately at the University of Oregon. He studied behind future NFL stars Igor Olshansky and Haloti Ngata before becoming a starter his senior year, when he made 47 tackles and had 9 tackles for loss and 3 sacks.

At the combine, Harris measured 6-3¾, 296 and ran the 40 in 5.05, benched 225 28 times, and had a vertical jump of 25.5. At his Pro Day, Harris improved his 40 time to 4.88. The Steelers brought him in for a visit on April 2 and drafted him at the end of the sixth round.

The Steelers liked what they saw from Harris at training camp, and in preseason games the rookie made 6 tackles with a sack in the finale against the Panthers. His teammates raved about his potential (which they did not for previous draft picks Orien Harris and Ryan McBean) but the coaching staff wanted more experience once the season started, so they stuck with Nick Eason instead, with the hope Harris could be placed on their practice squad.

When the Panthers claimed Harris, he told Charlotte reporters that his nickname is "Sunny" and not "Sonny," as Pittsburgh reporters had become accustomed to using. Harris explained the name was given to him by family members when he was 3 years old because he'd incorrectly sung the words to the Isley Brothers' song "Who's That Lady" by singing "Ooh Sunny Baby." The family dropped "Baby" from the nickname as Harris grew older.

As reported yesterday, Smith, 33, will undergo surgery on his rotator cuff Friday.

Those close to Smith believe he entered the game in Detroit on Sunday with the problem, and aggravated the injury in the second quarter. He left the game and returned several times in the third quarter, before finally leaving for good late in the quarter after Lions fullback Jerome Felton ran 8 yards on a 3rd-and-7 play.

Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said at his Tuesday press conference that Smith's replacement at left defensive end will be a "committee" consisting of Travis Kirschke, Eason, and first-round draft pick Ziggy Hood.

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