By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — It might have been just a walk-through, but 13-year veteran Aaron Smith approached the Friday morning session like any other.
Smith did everything asked of him during the hour-long workout and then stayed after to hit the blocking sleds with his fellow defensive ends. And even though Smith has played in just 11 games the past two seasons and 38 the past four years due to various shoulder and arm injuries, he looked pretty good.
“It was as much for me as it was for them to get me back into it, to hit the sled and get back into feeling it was a good thing for me,” Smith said. “As far as health-wise, I feel great, but we really won’t know until I play some real football. But I’m in great condition. (And) as far as status-wise, until they tell me otherwise, I’m going to keep going like I’ve been going here as the starter.
“But if they feel it’s better for the team with Ziggy, I’ll deal with it then, but I’m looking at it like I’m still the starter until they say otherwise. Motivation-wise, this is my 13th camp, and you still have that nervousness and that anxiety, so that hasn’t changed for me. I still feel like it’s the same every year for me.”
Ziggy Hood, the club’s No. 1 pick in 2009, replaced Smith after six games last season and played pretty well by the playoffs. Hood is strong and athletic, and many believe his improved play would push Smith out the door into retirement.
“I only quit one time in my life, and it did not feel good,” Smith noted. “It was when I was a freshman in high school, but I love to play this game, and I’ll keep playing this game until they can tell me that I can’t play it anymore.”
Smith wanted to play for his high school basketball team, which was going to the playoffs. He got called up to the varsity there, so he wanted to quit the freshman football team. Smith said he was playing the scout team, so he was getting “beat up pretty good.” Instead of just supporting his decision, Smith’s mother made him tell the football coach himself.
“That was tough for a 15-year-old boy to do,” Smith said. “It was … a very uncomfortable situation. I didn’t like that feeling at all. So, I don’t think I can quit now. I just can’t see myself quitting, so we’ll go through this year and evaluate that and see what goes on. But I’m just taking it day by day and year by year now. I’m at that stage in my career.”
Smith said he wouldn’t have an issue being a backup to Hood or having his contract renegotiated to provide cap space, but he hasn’t been approached about either at this point.
Smith spent the offseason running and working out in the Pittsburgh area, Marshall Middle School in the North Allegheny School District in Wexford, Pa. He dropped about 10 pounds from that hard work and has been cleared to practice with the team on a full-time basis.
Smith added that he believed he had a legitimate shot to play in the Super Bowl, despite missing the final two-thirds of the season to that point, but the risk outweighed the benefits. So, he stayed on the bench then as well.
Limas Is Back
Third-year wideout Limas Sweed was not ready to play last season, however, as an offseason workout resulted in a ruptured Achilles tendon. This followed a season marred by personal issues. The Steelers selected Sweed in the second round from Texas in 2008.
He played in 11 games and had six catches for 64 yards as a rookie and played in nine games in 2009 and had just one catch for five yards with no touchdowns overall. Sweed has his old No. 80 back for this camp with a new attitude and outlook that was refreshing to see and hear.
“I’m 110-percent ready to go right now,” Sweed said. “The Achilles is back, and I’m feeling healthy. I pretty much know the plays, so now it’s just a matter of getting out there and doing what I can do. I just come in like I’m a rookie. I’m coming off an injury.
“I battled some things, off-field issues the last couple years, which set me back. But I’m back, and I’m grateful that the Steelers stuck with me and helped me get through that. So, I’m … in my right mind mentally and physically. Now, it’s time for me to get out there and play and let the chips fall where they may.”
Sweed said he was asked to sit out the end of the conditioning run Thursday to take it easy on his Achilles. He said he was running hard and felt pretty good.
“If I go out and just play football, I believe everything else will take care of itself,” Sweed said. “And this is the first time that I’ve come out here with a clear mind and have been healthy. I’ve been battling injuries and other things, but now I feel like I’m 110 percent mentally and physically, body and soul. And now it’s just time to prove it.
“Going through some of the things that I went through off the field, being distracted, that cost me to lose confidence. But that can happen to anybody. To have my teammates and the Steelers there to help me get through them, that’s why I’m here to day, and it’s why I’m a much stronger person.
“Coming back from the Achilles injury and the other things I went through, that’s not exactly easy to come back from things like that,” Sweed added. “But I had good support from my teammates and coaches, and now it’s time to rock and roll. And I’m ready to do that this year.”
Notes: Safety Troy Polamalu said he’s getting closer to being 100 percent, but believed his lower-body injury took longer to heal because he just rehabbed it and didn’t opt for surgery. … Polamalu probably won’t practice too hard this first week to continue to heal and allow younger plays to get more reps.
The Steelers have signed first round pick Cameron Heyward, the team announced.