By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — When the Pittsburgh Steelers made Evander “Ziggy” Hood their No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, they envisioned the 6-foot-3, 300-pound end from Missouri eventually being a mainstay on their defensive line.
With Aaron Smith turning 34 Monday, along with other starters Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel turning 33 and 32, respectively, in September, there’s no time like the present for Hood.
“You can’t play in the NFL forever, so there comes a time when the younger guys have to step up,” Hood said. “So, this is my time. I need to get in there and play the way that Keisel and Casey and Aaron Smith perform. We can’t have a drop-off when one of them goes out even for a couple plays.
“But I’m not really concerned so much about the numbers, although that’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to have a lot of tackles and sacks. But I’m more focused on my technique, staying with that and improving it all the time. If I can do that, in turn, I definitely will help the team out.”
In eight games as a rookie, Hood recorded eight total tackles, including five solo stops and one sack that elicited quite a sack dance. Hood said after that game that he would never do something like that again, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have something to celebrate this season.
“I believe I became a better player when things started to slow down for me, and I realized that technique is the name of the game,” Hood said. “When you develop that, your strength, speed and everything else will help you. So, just throughout the year and season, I was learning from all the vets and coaches.
“And once I got on the field, experience, I definitely would say that’s the main thing you need to improve. The more that I got out there against different levels of competition, that helps you learn what you need to work on and what you need to do to get better and help your team. So, that improved for me.”
In order to be ready for this coming season, Hood worked out in Pittsburgh for a while, but he primarily trained in the same place that he went prior to the NFL Draft last year. He was so happy with how that worked out at Competitive Edge Sports (CES) that he repeated the performance this year.
“I stayed up here a lot, but in February I pretty much spent the whole month in Atlanta at CES with Chip Smith,” Hood said. “So, I worked real hard the whole time. I really didn’t get to play that much this past season, so my body wasn’t banged up. And I really didn’t need the rest. I needed the extra work.
“Hopefully, all that hard work will pay off this season. Sure, I would like to play more often in games, but the main thing for me is to produce more when I’m in there. I had some limited success last season, but I have to do more. And I want the coaches to be confident that I’ll do the job when I’m in there.”
Hood didn’t just work on his physique, that appears to be leaner even though he maintained his playing weight from last season. He worked extensively with Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell watching film and getting into his playbook, as well as some on-field work, to prepare for a bigger workload.
And this time, Hood had some specific workout goals in mind.
“I pretty much just wanted to get better and both the four and the five (left and right defensive end) spots,” Hood said. “You know, it’s best to be versatile like that, although I’m mainly working on the left side. And I’ve been working on my moves, pass-rushing, maybe 1-2 moves. You can’t work on everything.
“So, I just wanted to perfect my best two moves and keep working on those, and when I get better there maybe Coach Mitchell will have me doing more at the five. You have to be versatile, because you never know what’s going to happen with injuries and things like that. So, I want to be versatile.”
Spring OTA Notes: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sporting a new helmet. He said it was sleeker, but it also is designed to better protect him from concussions like the one he suffered in Kansas City last fall. … WR Limas Sweed changed jersey numbers from 14 to 80, and QB Dennis Dixon will change from 2 to 10 (formerly Santonio Holmes’ number). … Former Pitt punter Adam Graessle, in camp as a backup to Daniel Sepulveda, is wearing No. 8.