Big Question: Can Aaron Smith contribute?

How much can the potential return of veteran defensive end Aaron Smith help the Steelers' defense?

PITTSBURGH -- Including the playoffs, Smith has missed the past 11 games of the season following triceps surgery. But Smith has a chance to play for the first time in more than two months in Sunday's AFC title game against the New York Jets.

Smith is in the process of trying to pull off a "Rod Woodson," who injured his knee early in the 1995 season but was kept on the roster and returned for the Super Bowl. Although this injury isn't as severe, Smith had triceps surgery in late October. He's trying to return to help Pittsburgh advance to its third Super Bowl in six years.

How much can Smith contribute? If Smith plays against the Jets, he won't be the starter.

"A snap count is probably going to be part of that discussion," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week. "The guys who have been given the opportunity to replace him, like Ziggy Hood, have more than met the standard. They deserve to continue to play, but it will be nice to add that tool to the toolbox."

When healthy, Smith is the prototypical 3-4 defensive end. He's extremely good against the run and also has the ability to fight through double-teams and sack the quarterback on occasion.

The Jets aim to establish the run, so the Steelers will welcome any contribution from Smith. New York was one of two teams to rush for more than 100 total yards against Pittsburgh's defense this season.

For months, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Smith would not play. But this week there seems to be a buzz in Pittsburgh's locker room that it's possible Smith could get playing time.

"No doubt about it, he's a guy who's been here for a long time and we feed off his energy," Steelers captain and linebacker James Farrior said. "To have him out there, even if it's just for a few plays, will definitely give our defense a boost."