By Scott Brown
Friday, March 23, 2007
He has the most career sacks on a team that recently parted ways with its top pass rusher.
Yet when Aaron Smith talked Thursday about assuming a bigger role next season, he was referring to the one he'll take in the locker room more than anything else.
"I think I am going to have to speak up a little more," Smith said after an offseason workout at the Steelers' South Side practice facility, "and I think some of the guys that aren't used to speaking up are going to have to step up and speak a little more."
That the 6-foot-5, 298-pound defensive end is including himself in that group isn't surprising even though he generally prefers to blend in rather than be, well, Joey Porter.
The five-year, $25 million contract extension that Smith signed near the end of February cemented his status as a proven, respected veteran.
If he feels compelled to be more vocal next season, that is because the Steelers lost the unquestioned leader of their defense when they released Porter. The move came a couple of days after Smith agreed to the deal that should allow him to retire as a Steeler.
There also is the not-so-small matter of the Steelers underachieving in 2006 and missing the playoffs a season after they won the Super Bowl.
Smith said he and his teammates are intent on returning to their winning ways, even though the Steelers are in transition with new head coach Mike Tomlin.
"I think it's just the personalities," he said on why he expects the Steelers to rebound rather than regress. "There's a lot of prideful men on this team and guys are used to winning, and they want to come out and prove something."
Smith, who turns 31 next month, knows all about proving something, He did just that after the Steelers drafted him out of a Division II school (Northern Colorado) in 1999.
He has registered 34 sacks in eight seasons and, perhaps more importantly, has been stout against the run in the Steelers' 3-4 defense.
There has been considerable speculation about whether the Steelers will go to a 4-3 scheme -- and sooner rather than later -- since Tomlin learned that defense while serving as an assistant coach under Tony Dungy.
"There's always a little uncertainty with all of the change," Smith said of having a new coach. "Nobody likes change, and it's tough, but it's a necessary part of life. I'm fine with whatever the coaches decide. Whatever's going to give us the best chance to win football games, that's what I'm up for."