Friday, December 23, 2011

Ziggy Hood makes a mark with Steelers

BY KATHLEEN NELSON • > 314-340-8233
December 23, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 6: Ziggy Hood(notes) #96 of the Pittsburgh Steelers pumps up the crowd against the Baltimore Ravens during the game on November 6, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

With 10 days between their victory on Dec. 8 over Cleveland and their loss Monday to San Francisco, the Pittsburgh Steelers found time to create holiday greetings for their fans.

Each unit — the linebackers, the offensive line, the defensive backs, etc. — prepared a video rendition of a traditional carol. The collection is available for viewing at

"You don't have to worry about them quitting their day jobs," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said between chuckles.

None of the groups approaches the zeal with which the defensive line belts out "Winter Wonderland." And no one gives it more oomph than Ziggy Hood, former Missouri Tigers defensive tackle turned NFL defensive end. Hood manages to mouth about every other word, but can really bust a Christmas move.

"That was a good time," Hood said. "I didn't know all the words, and I'm not going to lie. I thought I'd bring more entertainment with my dancing. The big guys are always fun to be round, so that's why we're the best."

After almost three seasons, Hood seems to have found his place with the Steelers, though he seemed destined to become a fun guy since childhood. Christened Evander Hood in Amarillo, Texas, in 1987, he has been known since he was toddler as "Ziggy," a nickname given to him by his cartoon-loving grandmother.

Hood is one of a trio of former Missouri defensive lineman drafted in the first round who have earned starting jobs in the NFL; the others are Justin and Aldon Smith of the 49ers.

Hood gave credit to defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski for his development.

"I just think that it comes from all the coaching up there," Hood said. "And then I think he's got a couple more guys coming out in this year's draft. I just think it goes back to who they're recruiting and what they're doing up there. They're giving the guys the opportunity to showcase themselves on TV."

A defensive tackle with the Tigers, Hood had his most productive year in 2007, his junior season, with 49 tackles, five sacks and three forced fumbles. His statistics dropped his senior season, when opposing offenses keyed on him and he finished with 23 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. His stock rose considerably, though, at the NFL combine and at Missouri's pro day before the 2009 draft.

"His motor was attractive, a guy that plays hard," Tomlin said. "He had a nice skill set or pedigree, as we like to call it, but probably the most interesting thing was just his overall work ethic and approach to football, not only in terms of what we were able to see on tape, but the words that were spoken about him by teammates and coaches and people at the University of Missouri."

Thus, the Steelers took Hood with the final pick of the first round, 32nd overall, with the notion of converting him to a defensive end in their 3-4 scheme.

"I think my technique has gotten 10 times better," Hood said. "You can see a dramatic change from my first year to now to where I can handle double teams or shedding blockers or getting back to the QB, all of the little things that make a 3-4 defensive end. I think I'm starting to come through at that end."

Hood played in all 16 games as a rookie and started nine games last year, earning three sacks and 20 tackles. He has started 12 of 14 games this season, with 25 tackles. "Measureables" aren't the hallmark of the Steelers defensive line, though.

Instead, Hood said, he had to learn about "engaging in blockers and holding them at the point of attack and really not letting myself get too carried off like I've got to be the guy that makes the play. I've got to understand this defense is made for linebackers, and I've got to understand that if I hold this gap or hold this point of attack and my linebackers come through then that's a plus for everybody. If I try to do too much or try to be selfish, that hurts the team."

Almost three years into his pro career, Hood seems to have embraced the Steelers' philosophy and Pittsburgh as home.

"I own about three Terrible Towels,'' he said. "I own a pink one, a black one and an original yellow one that they have. They're just special to me for what I have in my man cave.

"It's been a fun ride, and I'm blessed to have this opportunity to play with this group of guys and to work under these coaches. It's just been amazing for what they have done for me and what all I can do for them when it comes, playing game-wise and stuff like that. It's just been a very positive vibe for them."

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