That would leave the Steelers' valuable defensive left end unavailable until the middle of January, meaning Mike Tomlin must make a decision similar to the one Bill Cowher faced in 1995, when he did not put Woodson on season-ending injured reserve and left open a roster space for Rod Woodson, who made it back for that season's Super Bowl after tearing an ACL in the opener.
Tomlin said Smith suffered the injury Sunday against the Detroit Lions, but was not specific. Smith, typically a three-down player, first left the game with 12:14 remaining in the third quarter on a 3rd-and-15 play. Travis Kirschke and first-round draft pick Ziggy Hood replaced Smith for the next three snaps, but Smith returned with 9:52 left in the third and played four snaps, including a field-goal attempt during which Smith raised his right arm in an attempt to block the kick.
With 6:00 left in the third, a quarter in which the Steelers had only five offensive snaps, Smith returned, and at times extended only his left arm. He was replaced by Hood with 4:30 left in the third, returned with 2:47 left in the third for one play, and was again replaced by Hood. Smith came back for a final play with 1:25 left in the third on 3rd-and-7, which the Lions converted with a run by fullback Jerome Felton. Smith was blocked easily on the play and didn't return.
Tomlin was asked today whether Hood would replace Smith in the starting lineup Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
"He's a young guy that's on the come," Tomlin said. "He's got a lot of talent. He's not out of the oven yet ... By no means is Ziggy Hood a replacement for Aaron Smith at this point. It'll probably be a committee of bodies who'll try to fill that void?"
"The usual suspects: Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason, Ziggy Hood," Tomlin said.
Smith, 33, missed the last three games of the 2007 regular season, and then the playoff game, with a torn biceps. The Steelers lost three of the four games when Eason, then a newcomer, and Kirschke split up the replacement duty and the defense allowed an average of 28 points per game. Both Kirschke and Eason, according to line coach John Mitchell, have improved significantly since that time.