Steelers' Smith continues to hurdle obstacles
The words didn't fit the venue — a small patch of shaded grass outside a cafeteria. They sounded more like something that should be boomed out to the masses, with the theatrics that accompany a motivational speaker's delivery.
"No matter what the adversity or obstacle is, you can overcome it," Aaron Smith said, "and you just keep going. It's just the way I've lived my life."
That credo guided the Steelers' veteran defensive end back to St. Vincent College for his 13th, but not necessarily final, training camp.
Smith is back after suffering a third season-ending injury in the past four years. After missing the final 13 games in 2010 — he partially tore his left triceps in a game at Miami — Smith will be among the more scrutinized Steelers this preseason.
That is due to the confluence of age (35), recent injury history and Smith's standing as perhaps the standard for 3-4 defensive ends — when he is healthy.
"Ol' Aaron's hanging in there," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said with a chuckle. "He's a passionate, veteran guy that loves to play, loves to practice."
Smith has been getting most of the repetitions with the first-team defense, and he appears to be close to full strength, even though the NFL lockout prevented him from rehabilitating his left arm at Steelers headquarters this offseason.
"I've felt good," said Smith, who also has torn his rotator cuff and biceps since 2007. "There's a little apprehension, I think, every time I've had injuries to come back the first day. But once you go through it, you get a little more confident each time you do something."
"He's looking like he hasn't lost a step," defensive end Ziggy Hood said. "Once we get in the preseason, I think he's going to be back to where he was."
If that is the case, it likely means less playing time for Hood.
Hood, the Steelers' 2009 first-round pick, came into his own last season after Smith went down. Hood started the final 10 regular-season games and finished with 20 tackles and three sacks.
Hood said he and Smith are "pushing each other" in camp. But in a measure of respect, Hood said he has no problem accepting a lesser role if Smith is healthy.
"Splitting time or him starting would not upset me at all because we're trying to make this team better," Hood said.
The 6-foot-5, 298-pound Smith has been a major reason the Steelers have been arguably the NFL's best run-stopping team during the past decade. Smith also is ninth on the team's all-time sacks list (44) despite rarely rushing the quarterback off the edge.
One question regarding Smith, a father of five who already has two Super Bowl rings, is why he would put himself through arduous injury rehabilitation for a third time since Tomlin became head coach.
"I just love playing football," said Smith, a fourth-round pick out of Northern Colorado in 1999. "I'm not playing for the money anymore. I just love coming out here and being a part of the team. My ego's not so big that I feel like I have to play every snap. Whatever they think is best for this team, I'm willing to do."
Smith is in the final year of a five-year deal — he will receive $4.5 million this season — but said retirement is not something he has pondered.
"Obviously someday I'm not going to be here," Smith said. "It's the reality of this business, but I think I'll be the type of guy that you'll have to run out of here."