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Back in the flow

As the OTA session ended, the majority of players made their way into the weight room, ready for cardio before finishing their day.

But Aaron Smith led a group of defensive linemen to the blocking sleds, looking to get just a little more work in before packing it in.

"He was the first guy walking over there," said fellow defensive end Brett Keisel. "He is our leader."

A leader who was sorely missed last year, sidelined after the fifth game of the season with a torn rotator cuff. But Smith is back, getting on the field earlier than many thought and taking part in the OTAs.

"I still have a ways to go but I am starting to get back in the flow of things, getting back into football," said Smith.

For veterans OTAs are normally a necessary evil, a warm-up for training camp when things really get down to business. But for Smith it's a whole different ball game this year.

"It's fun," Smith admitted. "You really appreciate things when things are taken away from you and you don't have the opportunity to do them. I really am enjoying this, coming out here and running around, being able to compete and have fun with the guys."

Smith is taking advantage of the pace at OTAs, which are in shorts, no pads, no hitting, to work his way back into the swing of things before training camp rolls around.

"It's an opportunity for me to get my skills back to where I want them to be and to get back to being comfortable out there on the field," said Smith. "I consider it a rehab, re-learning process right now. It will be nice because when I get to camp I will have already gone through all of this and be ready to go. It's nicer right now to be doing this because everybody is not trying to kill one another. You get a chance to test it out when you want to test it out and you can protect it when you want."

Smith wasted no time getting on the road to recovery, starting on his rehab the minute he was given the green light by the team's athletic training staff. But what was tougher was the mental part of it.

"It's hard to watch your teammates go out there and play games and you not be able to contribute and help out in any way," said Smith. "It's hard to do and hard to watch. It's more mental than physical. The physical part you can work through. The mental part is where you have to fight. That was the hardest part. You don't want to get too down, or too upset. You have to fight all of those bad thoughts in your head."

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