Can Aaron Smith Pull A Woodson?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 21: Aaron Smith of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes a tackle against the New York Giants during their preseason game at New Meadowlands Stadium on August 21, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

When Pittsburgh Steelers great Rod Woodson was enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame a couple years back, people would ask me about him whenever I was interviewed.  Rod provided a lot of great memories, such as the 1989 Wild Card playoff game against the Houston Oilers where he ran over RB Lorenzo White forcing what would be the game-winning turnover.   But nothing can compare to his miraculous return in 1995.

In the first game of the season, Barry Sanders juked Woodson’s ACL clean off his knee necessitating reconstructive surgery.  Meanwhile, the Steelers marched through the regular season, survived the playoffs, and found themselves in Super Bowl XXX.  Against all odds, Rod the God returned to play in that game, even covering future HOF wide receiver Michael Irvin.  He remains the only player in NFL history to return from a torn ACL in the same year.

Aaron Smith underwent surgery to repair a torn tricep tendon yesterday afternoon. Losing Smith is a huge blow to the Steelers defense as he’s not only one of the finest 3-4 defensive ends in the league, he may very well be the best that has ever played in that scheme.   He doesn’t have the gaudy numbers of a Bruce Smith or Warren Sapp but his role in Dick LeBeau‘s defense is different.  His job has always been to take on blockers and free up gaps for the linebackers and in that role he is without equal.

When Smith has been lost to injury, the Steelers stifling run defense has historically suffered.  Who can forget the Jaguars running for 224 yards on them after he went down in 2007?   Or last season when James Farrior began looking a lot slower and a lot older without Smith holding the fort in front of him?  We’re going to have to assume that the Black and Gold’s top ranked rush defense is headed for a slide down the standings.

What’s interesting about Smith’s story, and why I referenced Woodson in my opening, is the Steelers have chosen not to place him on injured reserve.   Once a player is placed on IR, he’s ineligible to return the rest of the season.  Evidently, the hope is Smith can return some time this year.  Although no timetable was given at Mike Tomlin‘s weekly press conference, I would think it’s not entirely unrealistic.  Super Bowl XLV is a little over three months from now.  I’m no Dr. McDreamy but a twelve or thirteen week recovery period seems reasonable to me.

Of course, if Ziggy Hood begins playing like the first round pick he is, the Steelers could always reverse course.  In the meantime, playing with what amounts to a 52 man roster seems a small price to pay for the hope that Smith can return in time for a playoff run.  It would be pretty sweet to see Smith pull a Woodson.   And even sweeter if it happens on February 6th in Dallas.

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