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Wednesday Practice: Eason in the mix to replace Aaron Smith

Now that Aaron Smith is done for the year, playing time for Ziggy Hood should increase.
Hood, the Steelers’s first-round pick in this year’s draft, won’t start at left defensive end Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. But he’s in the mix of replacements who’ll try to measure up to the high standards set by Smith over the years.
“It will probably be a committee of bodies trying to fill (Smith’s) void,” coach Mike Tomlin. “The usual suspects: Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood.”

For now, at least, veteran Travis Kirschke will start at left defensive end. He’s a savvy 13th-year pro who’ll hold his own.
Kirschke missed Wednesday’s practice with a sore back that’s bothered him for several years. Running with the first-team defense at practice Wednesday was Nick Eason. But Eason, a seventh-year pro with only four career starts, hasn’t even dressed for a game this season.
“I am excited. I’m getting the chance to play a little more and bring some excitement to the defense,” Hood said.
“He’s a young guy who’s on the come up,” Tomlin said. “He’s got a lot of talent. He’s not out of the oven yet if you will. We acknowledge that. He acknowledges that. By no means is Ziggy Hood a potential replacement for Aaron Smith at this point.”
Even Hood admits that he’s not ready for full-time playing time.
“I can only do so much right now,” he said. “There’s still a lot I got to learn. There’s a lot more I need to know about the defense and how it works and getting my technique down.”
Smith. by the way, is expected to have surgery Friday to repair his injured rotator cuff.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in the Steelers 28-20 win over the Lions.
Harrison, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, recorded three sacks for 24 yards in losses.
Harrison leads the Steelers with six sacks.
Since signing a lucrative contract extension right before the start of training camp, Heath Miller has been living up to his nickname, “Big Money.”
With 29 catches, he ranks seventh in the NFL. He also leads the Steelers with three touchdown catches.
He is proving the Steelers right for signing him to a six-year extension worth $35.3 million, a $12.5 million signing bonus included.
Right now, the only tight end in the league with more catches is Indianapolis’ Dallas Clark with 35. San Diego’s Antonio Gates isn’t far behind with 24, and the Chargers didn’t play this past weekend.
Still, this could be the year Miller finally makes it to the Pro Bowl.
“I always felt he’s the best tight end in the AFC,” Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.
At his current pace, Miller would finish with 93 catches. That would shatter the Steelers’ record for a tight end set in by Eric Green when he caught 63 passes in 1993.
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t even thought about the Pro Bowl,” Miller said. “That’s too far down the line. If it happens, that would be great. But I’m more concerned about helping this team win and helping us get back to the Super Bowl.
“The way I look at it, when you get your opportunities, you make the most of them.”
Even though the Browns (1-4) won for the first time this season with a 6-3 win in Buffalo, they’re still getting ripped for the way they’re playing under first-year coach Eric Mangini.
That holds true for the Cleveland passing attack. In that win over the Bills, quarterback Derek Anderson completed just 2-of-17 passes for 23 yards, and compiled a lowly 15.1 passer rating.
But Mangini said a lot of factors contributed to Anderson’s performance.
“We could have done a better job catching the football. There were too many drops,” Mangini said. “A couple of throws got batted down. A couple of them weren’t quite on target. The wind played somewhat of a factor in that. To me, if you’re open, the balls there, you’ve got to catch it. That’s what you’ve got to focus on first. Not the run after the catch, not anything else besides looking the ball in, tucking it away and going.
“To win a game where you’re 2-of-17, you’ve got to be doing some other things right,” Mangini added. “And we did enough of those things right to win the game.”

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Mike Bires

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