Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith is in danger of being placed on the IR for the second time in three seasons.
After missing the better portion of the 2007 season with a torn biceps, Smith suffered a partial tear of his right rotator cuff this past Sunday in Detroit. The injury could sideline him for up to three months.
The partial tear of Smith’s rotator cuff was found during an evaluation Tuesday morning with team doctors. Smith is now weighing his options between having surgery on his injured shoulder and trying to play through it. Smith and specialists are supposed to make a decision sometime Wednesday morning.
While he may be able to play through the injury, Smith is in danger of worsening his existing condition to a career-threatening level if he decides to do so. Unfortunately for Smith and the Steelers, surgery means as much as three months on the rack. No small loss for the defending champs, who are trying to sort out some major defensive issues.
Aaron Smith may be the most underrated player at his position in the National Football League. Essential to the Steelers 3-4 defensive scheme, Smith’s presence on the defensive line has been a consistent force since being drafted in 1999.
Smith’s standout pass rush ability in a defensive system that is designed to highlight the team’s linebackers is overshadowed only by his ability to stop the run. Accumulating 13 tackles and two sacks in the Steelers’ first five games this season.
Perhaps the reasons why his coaches and teammates respect and admire him is best personified by the fact the All-Pro is willing to play special teams. Playing on a field goal blocking team, Smith blocked a kick that saved the game for the Steelers against the Titans during the opening week of the season.
The loss of Smith is somewhat of a concern for Steelers on a number of levels.
First, the Steelers are losing one of their better defenders. While the defensive linemen in Pittsburgh do not put up some of the huge numbers that other players do playing in a 4-3 scheme, their responsibilities are often more important than their counterparts around the league. Smith’s production is something the Steelers are going to find it hard to do without.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the Steelers have no clear-cut replacement for Smith at this point. Travis Kirschke is the odds-on favorite to replace Smith in the starting lineup as of right now. The 13-year veteran has been a career backup and special teams player so far, but has proven to be a capable backup when called upon to do so.
The team would like to have seen first round draft pick Ziggy Hood be ready to step in at this point, but Head Coach Mike Tomlin has made it very clear that Hood is not being considered as a potential starter or full time replacement for Aaron Smith.
The Steelers will await word of Smith’s condition and the doctor’s prognosis for his return, and are likely to find out sometime Wednesday afternoon what decisions are being made concerning Smith’s immediate future.
Check back here for the latest updates as they develop.