By BOB LABRIOLA
During his regular weekly news conference yesterday, Coach Mike Tomlin revealed that Aaron Smith had injured his right shoulder, and that the situation "potentially could be significant."
It turned out to be precisely that, and the Steelers placed Smith on the injured reserve list because of the shoulder injury. The injured reserve list means Smith's season is over.
When asked yesterday about the team's options in light of Smith's injury, Tomlin said, "The usual suspects. Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood."
To take Smith's spot on the roster, the Steelers signed Sunny Harris from the Carolina Panthers' practice squad. Harris was the Steelers' sixth-round draft pick last April, and when he came to training camp the hope was that he would develop sufficiently to contribute as a practice squad player as a rookie.
But after a summer in which Harris showed consistent improvement and concluded the preseason in Carolina with a nice game that included a sack, the Panthers claimed him when the Steelers put him on waivers. Because of needs at other positions, Harris subsequently was waived and signed to the Carolina practice squad. The Steelers also had plans to work out veteran Orpheus Roye.
As the team's most recent No. 1 draft choice, Hood naturally is attracting the most attention, and Tomlin was asked about the rookie's readiness for an expanded role.
"He has played in just about every football game he's had a helmet on," said Tomlin. "He has played on special teams in some games, he has had more defensive snaps in others. He played a pretty significant portion of the game this past week (in Detroit). He's a young guy who's on the come. He's got a lot of talent. He's not out of the oven yet, if you will. We acknowledge that, he acknowledges that. As long as we continue to do that, he'll continue in the right direction. He'll continue along those lines in terms of participation, but by no means is Ziggy Hood a potential replacement for Aaron Smith at this point. It will probably be a committee of bodies trying to fill that void."
Make no mistake, no Aaron Smith creates a void. Smith has been with the Steelers longer than any players except Hines Ward and Deshea Townsend and long has been considered a key ingredient to the Steelers 3-4 alignment.
When Smith was injured late in the 2007 and was forced onto the injured reserve list after the seasons 13th game, the Jaguars, Rams and Ravens rushed for 224, 90 and 180 yards, respectively over the last three weeks of the regular season. Smith's teammates regularly call him the most underrated player on the defense.
Through five games this season, Smith had 13 tackles, two sacks and 14 pressures, and he also blocked a field goal attempt during the Steelers' 13-10 win over Tennessee on Sept. 10.