PITTSBURGH -- Defensive end Aaron Smith has been one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' most dependable players since his rookie season in 1999, rarely overpowered at the line of scrimmage or caught in a mismatch against a superior player.
The problem is Smith can't produce if he's not on the field and, for the first time since his rookie year, he won't be there Sunday in Cincinnati. Smith did not practice all week because of a sprained ligament in his left knee and won't play in the key AFC North game.
"Aaron is as good a football player as we have on this team, not only on the defense," Tomlin said. "You know what you are going to get from him. ... The level of his play is consistent and consistently high."
Cornerback Bryant McFadden (sprained ankle) also isn't expected to return after being held out for the last two games.
Aaron Smith has started every Steelers game but two since 2000, but was injured during the first quarter of the Steelers' 31-28 loss Sunday in Denver and did not return. He wanted to come back but was not cleared by team doctors, then wasn't all that happy when Tomlin effectively ruled him out of this game early in the week.
"That's my motto: Whatever the coach says, that's what I'll say," Smith said.
The Steelers aren't making any predictions on how long Smith will be out, but such an injury often forces a player to sit for multiple games. Smith apparently does not need surgery, which likely would have sidelined him for the season.
"As soon as I can get on that field and be healthy and compete, I'm going to get on the field and do it," Smith said. "I'll just try to stay in shape and stay involved as much as I can."
"Aaron Smith is one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL," said Eason, who had one tackle in Denver. "He plays at a high level. It's my job to play to the same level that he plays at and not let it be a letdown."
"I believe anybody on our defensive line can step in and play," Smith said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press