Steelers’ Hood hasn’t forgotten his roots at Mizzou

by Randy Covitz | The Kansas City Star

ARLINGTON, Texas | Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood carries a piece of Missouri football with him every time he steps onto the field.

Several pieces, in fact.

Hood, in his second season with the Steelers, still wears around his wrists a handful of black-and-gold elastic power bands the Missouri staff dispensed when he starred for the Tigers during 2005-08.

Each band has a motivational message.

“Sacrifice.” “Win Today.” “Discipline.”

One of them, which Hood received as a freshman, is so worn down that the letters cannot be discerned, but Hood remembers it as reading, “I Gotcha.”

“It gives me a push,” said Hood, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2009 who started the final 10 games of the season in place of injured veteran Aaron Smith.

“I don’t think there will ever be a replacement for Aaron, and I could never fill his shoes. My playing time has increased with him being down. And my role has stepped up a little bit. I still have to make myself better, make this team better and make this defense better.”

Hood, playing in a defense geared to enable the Steelers’ Pro Bowl linebackers to make tackles, has more than filled Smith’s shoes. Hood finished the season with 20 tackles — tied for the team lead among defensive linemen — and had three sacks. He also led the defensive line with 18 quarterback pressures and had a sack and nine tackles in the Steelers’ two postseason games.

“He’s done a great job,” said fellow defensive end Brett Keisel. “For a young kid to be able to come in and play as well as he’s played says a lot about him. Our defense is very complicated. It took me about four years to grasp everything, so he’s done it in two and not only do that, but fill in for a great, great Steeler in Aaron Smith. He’s a big reason why we’re sitting here today.”

Keisel is most impressed with the work ethic Hood brought from Missouri.

“The kid is a nonstop worker, no matter what he’s doing,” Keisel said. “You can always find him in the weight room or studying film. That’s what it takes at this level, and he’s done all those things.”

As a rookie, Hood appeared in 16 games, mostly on special teams, and made just four tackles while adjusting from a college 4-3 to the Steelers’ 3-4.

“It was something new for me, something hard,” said Hood, a 6-foot-3, 300-pounder. “Even sometimes in the games where I feel like I’m not getting it, maybe after I make some type of play … maybe it wasn’t a tackle, maybe I just extended my arms and locked out a guy and kept myself in the gap, and someone else made the play. That’s when it starts really making sense to me.”

Coming out of Missouri, Hood was the 32nd and final player taken in the first round of the 2009 draft by the Steelers, then the defending Super Bowl champions. He still looks good wearing black and gold, and Hood is trying to live up to the Steelers’ defensive tradition.

“You’ve heard of the Steel Curtain and Mean Joe Greene, and everybody that has played there before,” said Hood, who is from nearby Amarillo. “You’re walking into a team that prides themselves on defense, and Pittsburgh is a blue-collar city, so everybody comes to work. I feel like my work ethic is good enough, so when I come in, I just feel right comfortable.

“When I slip on the jersey, I’m slipping something on that’s (as) big as me. I’m representing my family. I’m representing Amarillo … Missouri, and most importantly, I’m representing myself.”

Hood was part of an exceptional group at Missouri that produced NFL players Jeremy Maclin, William Moore, Sean Weatherspoon, Chase Coffman and Chase Daniel, who was a backup for New Orleans in last year’s Super Bowl, and he hopes the tradition of former Tigers at Super Bowls continues.

“A lot of guys have moved on to better things and it’s always good to hear back from the older guys, especially coach (Gary) Pinkel, my D-line coach (Craig Kuligowski) … has done a great job of putting us in different positions to make plays,” Hood said. “And just having that behind me makes me want to work hard and go out there and play even better and win. Not only win that for you, but win that for them as well.”

The next wave of Missouri players to the NFL will include defensive end Aldon Smith and quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who are expected to be first-round draft picks this spring.

So Hood may find himself smashing Gabbert on the field one day in the NFL.

“I would love to,” Hood said with a smile. “I would love to get the chance to. And if I happen to play Chase, I would like to smash him, too.”

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