In my continuing attempt to keep both you and myself entertained through the slowest month of the National Football League calendar, today I’m looking at perhaps the biggest question mark of all that will be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason of 2014. Since being drafted in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Evander ‘Ziggy’ Hood has been anything but worthy of his first round pedigree.
With that said, Hood hasn’t exactly been horrible either and herein lies the problem for the Steelers going forward. Hood has been incredibly durable over his four-year career. He has not missed a game.
Last season, he started all 16 games and recorded three sacks and 25 solo tackles. Because the defensive end position in Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 defense is not one that is expected to put up lots of numbers, this makes it a little more difficult to really evaluate Hood’s career to this point.
At about this spot last season, big things were expected from Hood and those expectations were a direct result of his own offseason work. Hood did major offseason work with personal trainers and got himself into the best shape of his life. By the time training camp rolled around, Hood looked more like a bodybuilder than a football player.
If you’ve been around football a long time then you’ll know that more often than not, the guys who are well-built and ripped along the offensive and defensive lines aren’t always the best players. Think Tony Mandarich for example…
The problem for Hood has been production on the field. He has been nothing short of a model citizen off of it but just hasn’t shown the consistency worthy of a first round draft pick leaving the Steelers in quite a quandary in regards to re-signing him following this season. At times Hood shows quickness in attacking the line of scrimmage while at other times he looks slow off the ball.
One of the most important things a defensive end can do in the LeBeau 3-4 defense is require double teams to block him. This does two things. First, it means more often than not one-on-one situations for the more designated pass rushers which are the outside linebackers. Secondly, you hope the DE will take up both the offensive tackle and guard leaving the outside backer with nothing more than a tight end or running back in his path to get to the quarterback depending on the offense’s formation.
Hood is not doing this often enough and it has shown in decreased sacks from the outside linebacker positions. Against the run, Hood has been up and down as well. In some cases he can manhandle the opponent across from him and in others he is on roller skates being blown into the second level.
With just about half the teams in the league now running some form of the 3-4 defense, Hood could find decent demand for his services in 2014. This is where it gets delicate for the Steelers because just how much are they willing to pay him and for how long? In Hood’s favor are his durability and the fact that there appears to be little competition for him. Brett Keisel is likely done after this season and Cam Heyward hasn’t proven himself worthy of a first round pick yet either.
Unless Heyward or someone else really steps up the Steelers may be forced to bring Hood back. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world or maybe it would. Heck, I can’t even decide what his fate should be yet. A big 2013 season from Hood would certainly ease my mind as well as that of the Steelers.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.