By Mike Bires
Photo: David Hague – Inside Pittsburgh Sports
LATROBE _ For a day at least, Ziggy Hood got a promotion. He moved up to second-team left defensive end.
During team drills Monday afternoon, Hood and fellow rookie defensive lineman Ra’Shon “Sonny” Harris practiced with the second stringers.
“We needed more reps going against the biggest, faster, stronger guys, and so the coaches put us against the ones a little to find out the real speed of the game,” said Hood, the Steelers’ first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. “I feel good about that.”
Hood, who’s been impressive in camp so far, figures to get plenty of snaps Thursday when the Steelers open pre-season play against the Arizona Cardinals at Heinz Field.
“I feel good about where he is so far,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said of Hood. “We’ll get a better feeling about where he is after he goes live.”
That would be Thursday against the Cardinals.
“I can’t wait. What an honor it will be to put the game-day uniform on for the first time before all those crazy fans,” said Hood, who signed a five-year contract worth $11.3 million, including $6.1 million in guaranteed money, on July 27.
STEELERS SIGN STEPANOVICH
Alex Stepanovich has a new lease on life.
For that, he can thank injuries to Justin Hartwig and Darnell Stapleton.
With only two healthy centers on their roster, the Steelers signed Stepanovich for training camp depth and possibly more.
“We wanted to go into Thursday night with another interior lineman in that Darnell won’t be participating and in all likelihood, Justin will not as well,” coach Mike Tomlin said.”
“To be here is a huge opportunity, to be part of the Steelers and their great tradition … it’s just a great organization. I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I’m just hoping to contribute in any way.
“Any time you get an opportunity, you have to make the most of it. As long as I handle my business, and do what I’m capable of doing, I think that’s all they can ask of me and all I can ask of myself.”
Stepanovich lined up at third-team center Monday behind Doug Legursky and rookie A.Q. Shipley of Moon Township.
But with 34 NFL career starts in his resume, he wind up sticking with the Steelers once the regular season starts.
Stepanovich, who played college football at Ohio State, spent three seasons with Arizona (2004-06) and one season each with the Cincinnati Bengals (2007) and Atlanta Falcons (2008).
Stepanovich was cut by the Falcons in June. Since then, he said he’s “been waiting for a call.”
He finally got that call from the Steelers.
To make room for Stepanovich, the Steelers cleared a roster spot by cutting defensive lineman Jordan Reffett.
GOOD DAY FOR “TOUCHDOWN MAKER”
One of the forgotten players in the competition at wide receiver is Dallas Baker, a seventh-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
In the battle for the Nos. 3 and 4s spot behind starters Hines Ward and Santonio Holms, the names most mentioned are Limas Sweed, Mike Wallace, Shaun McDonald and even Brandon Williams.
But Baker, who’s spent most of the past two years on the practice squad, wants to be in that mix, too.
He hasn’t made many splash plays so far in camp, but he certainly had one his best days Monday by catching three passes in 11-on-11 drills, one from first-team quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and two others from backup QB Charlie Batch.
Baker landed the nickname of “Touchdown Maker” when he caught 21 career TD passes as a college player at the University of Florida.
MORNING PRACTICE CANCELLED
For the first nine days of camp, Tomlin allowed some veterans like wide receiver Hines Ward, cornerback Deshea Townsend and linebacker James Farrior to sit out a practice or two. In fact, Ward has been excused from several practices.
On Monday, Tomlin gave the whole team of by canceled the morning session.
“Coach realizes we have an older, veteran team,” strong safety Troy Polamalu said. “He realizes that we’re trustworthy and we know how to handle success. So he knows what to expect of us.”
Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore, the Steelers’ top two running backs, missed practice for the third straight day. Parker has been bothered by back spasms, Moore with a tender hamstring. Even if they do practice today, there’s chance both will miss Thursday pre-season game.
Nose tackle Casey Hampton also missed his second straight day of practice with a sore knee. He, too, may not play Thursday.
“JAWS & “MORT” VISIT CAMP
As they make their rounds throughout NFL training camps this summer, Ron Jaworski and Chris Mortensen visited St. Vincent College on Thursday.
Jaworski is an ESPN NFL analyst and color commentator for Monday Night Football.
Mortensen is another of the ESPN pro football analysts.
Also in camp was DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association.
Smith was in Latrobe to talk to the players about the ongoing labor issues.
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