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Steelers' defensive end Smith takes 'significant' step

The Steelers were treated to a welcome sight Tuesday at practice as defensive end Aaron Smith donned full pads for the first time since partially tearing his left triceps in an Oct. 24 game in Miami.

Smith, who is hoping to return to action at some point during the postseason, did not do a whole lot and left practice before his teammates.

But the step he took yesterday, several of his teammates said, was significant even if it was a small one.

"I think he needed to remember how to put his helmet back on and tie his shoes," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel joked. "To get him back on the football field running around a little bit was a step in the right direction."

Smith has been strengthening the arm on which he had surgery in late October, but he said there is no timetable for his return.

Smith is probably a long shot to play in the Steelers' AFC divisional playoff game Jan. 15 given the limited work he has been able to do to this point.

But Ziggy Hood, who has been starting at left defensive end in Smith's absence, said he has no doubt that one of the most indispensable players on the Steelers' defense will return this season.

"He's back running, and in no time, he'll be back on the field practicing," Hood said.

On the injury front

Strong safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles) and cornerback Bryant McFadden (abdomen) did not practice yesterday because of injuries.

Neither are expected to practice today or tomorrow since the Steelers have a bye in the AFC playoffs and don't play until the following Saturday.

McFadden, who suffered the only injury of note last Sunday in Cleveland, said he will play in the divisional playoff game that the Steelers will host Jan. 15.

"Make no mistake about it," McFadden said.

No-shave zone

Keisel's wife gave him a razor for Christmas, but the beard he has been growing since the middle of June — yes, the middle of June — might require hedge clippers.

Not that Keisel has plans to lose the beard anytime soon since the Steelers are on a roll.

"I told her 'We've got to ride this thing until the wheels fall off,' " Keisel said.

Keisel did offer something to his wife in the spirit of compromise.

"The mustache is getting a little bit out of control," he said. "I'm going to have to get some wax or something and try to tame it a little bit."

Sacks are down

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he has tried to get rid of the ball quicker this season. His success in doing so may be reflected in his sack totals.

Roethlisberger was sacked 2.7 times per game this season, compared with 3.3 in 2009.

Not that he has made a drastic change in his approach to the game.

"My style of play is to always try and make a play, and that usually entails holding onto the ball," Roethlisberger said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."

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