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Steelers veteran defensive end Smith not quite finished

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By Scott Brown
Friday, Jan. 6, 2012

A neck injury ended his season in October, but Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith isn't necessarily ready to call it a career.

"I drive down the road and fantasize about playing," Smith said Thursday before working out at the Steelers' practice facility. "Even when I'm done playing, I think I'll still fantasize about competing. I watch games now and think what I would do in that situation."

Smith, one of the best 3-4 defensive ends of his era, said he will decide after the season whether to try to return in 2012.

Smith, 35, said the Steelers likely will have to tell him — or strongly hint — that he is finished before he is ready to move on. One thing Smith said he won't do: Wear colors other than black and gold.

"That would just be ... ugly, wouldn't it?" Smith said. "It would ruin it."

Smith had spinal-fusion surgery in November to correct a neck injury that he didn't know he had until a mid-foot sprain sidelined the 13-year veteran. The recurring neck pain didn't subside when he stepped away from the daily grind, and Smith knew something was seriously wrong when he felt tingling in his arms one day while washing his hair.

He has lost more than 20 pounds — he weighs a little more than 280 pounds — but he has started lifting again. Smith said he doesn't face risks if he resumes playing. In fact, he said he is healthy enough that he could play right now had the Steelers not placed him on injured reserve.

"It's painful to stand on the sidelines and watch," Smith said. "If and when I do decide I'm done, it may be awhile before I watch football."

The news hasn't been all bad since Smith sustained his fourth season-ending injury since 2007.

His son, Elijah, diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, took his last bone-marrow test two days before Christmas. The disease is in remission, and doctors are phasing out the medical treatment Elijah has received for more than three years.

"He's doing great," Smith said.

Smith talked about a variety of topics. Among them:

> > The possibility of receiver Hines Ward playing for another team: "I would be shocked if Hines did that. He's kind of in the same scenario as me. To play here and do what he did here and then go somewhere else ... because you're not playing for the money. I mean, how much is enough?

> > The Steelers' young defensive linemen: "Ziggy (Hood), Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon, you watch those guys. They're all going to be great players here. Once all of us so-called old guys are gone, they won't miss a beat. They might even be better than we were up front."

> > Whether the Steelers will sustain their success after some cornerstone players are no longer with the team: "I'm sure of that. I don't know how they do it, but the scouting department and the player personnel guys do a great job of finding the same character-type guys — guys with the same attitude and the same approach, day in and day out. You can find guys with talent. That's the easy part. But the guys with those intangibles are harder to find."



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