The term ‘bust’ has long loomed over the head of defensive lineman Ziggy Hood, the first-round draft pick (32nd overall) of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2009 NFL Draft, and not entirely without merit, though the term does get thrown about with reckless abandon, especially on the internet.
So much of a player’s future, however, is shaped by his surrounding and elements out of his control. For example, despite being a second-round draft pick Jason Worilds spent much of the first three years of his career behind two Pro Bow-caliber starters.
The ‘bust’ tag had been Worilds’ shadow for most of his career as well, and it wasn’t until his circumstances changed that he was finally able to shed that tag, which resulted in a nice pay day from the team that drafted him this offseason.
Hood was not afforded the same honor, having signed yesterday with the Jacksonville Jaguars instead. They were willing to set aside $16 million over four seasons to bring him in on a contract that included $5.5 million guaranteed.
One would have to figure that such a contract would have been too rich for the Steelers’ blood, both based on their financial picture and their view of Hood’s tenure on the field while with the team.
Why would the Jaguars be willing to commit such a salary for what has been for all intents and purposes an underwhelming former first-round draft pick? Is it simply because their organization doesn’t know what they’re doing?
The real answer is that he was largely miscast with the Steelers at a time during which the organization was beginning to prepare for life after Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel.
Ironically, with the departure of Hood, as well as Al Woods, they may have to call upon Keisel for one more season to bail them out of what is now a desperate depth crisis along the defensive front line.
Hood knew it, even when he was drafted, telling the Jaguars media upon the signing that “it seemed kind of odd” that a 3-4 team such as Pittsburgh would draft him. The rest of the quote is very revealing:
“I did my part and did my best trying to mold myself into what [the Steelers] wanted. I had a great five-year run there, and now it’s time to really put some work in at the 4-3.
“I wouldn’t say it wasn’t a perfect fit, because I’m a team player first. I’m going to do everything I can to help the team and if it worked out, it worked out. The skills they showed me, I can hopefully use that and bring that here.”
Hood played 4-3 defensive tackle in college. While many of them end up at defensive end once they hit the pro circuit, the vast majority of them conform to a more stereotypical body type, with a height near six-foot-six, and typically with longer arms.
In Hood’s case, his shorter, stockier frame, coupled with his 33” arm length, forced him to face a constant uphill battle from a physique standpoint, but he did his best to counter it in the weight room.
As a 3-4 defensive end, Hood found himself lined up against mammoth offensive tackles on a down-to-down basis, whereas in college, he was more used to facing off with interior blockers that better suited his body type. This made it more difficult for him, for example, to shed blocks, even when his technique was solid.
No, Hood was never necessarily a technician, but it is something that he gradually addressed throughout his time in Pittsburgh. It was a point of emphasis in his offseason training in 2013, which may very well have been his best season from a fundamental standpoint.
The truth of the matter is, however, that no matter how strong he got, or how much he improved his technique, he was always going to be at a disadvantage. Not everybody can play the position with a physical disadvantage the way Chris Hoke did.
But Hood never complained. In fact, he is one of the players that always has a smile on his face. Hood’s words to the media said a lot about his character. He truly has been a team player, and worked about as hard as anybody else to get better.
He now joins a revamped Jaguars front line that includes former Seattle Seahawks Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, as well as Jason Babin. It’s a fresh start, a second chance, and an opportunity to prove that the only thing that was a ‘bust’ about his career up until now was the scheme in which he was placed.