On the Steelers: 'Ziggy' making a name for himself in camp

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Not all great NFL players have had nicknames, and not all nicknames seem apt. Certainly, most do not fit as well as "Mean" Joe Greene or "Fats" Holmes or even "Big Snack," which could describe either what Casey Hampton ate just before curfew or the offensive linemen he devoured earlier in the day.

Then there is Evander "Ziggy" Hood, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound Steelers defensive end who is turning his second training camp into his own 'hood. No one, absolutely no one, calls him Evander. Even the Steelers' media guide (so conservative that for about the 28th time in the past 30 years it has nothing on its plain black cover but a Steelers logo) introduces his bio as Ziggy Hood DE. Few, if any, Steelers ever received that treatment -- not Big Ben, not Fats, not Mean Joe and, for sure, not James "Silverback" Harrison.

Few nicknames are as unfitting for a player as Ziggy, which was bestowed on Hood by his Spanish-speaking grandmother after the comic strip. The cartoon Ziggy is short, bald and, according to the website gocomics.com, "perpetually one step behind, one nickel short, one lane away from the fast lane."

Calling Evander Hood "Ziggy" is akin to referring to the bald Stooge as "Curly."

"He's big, he's strong and he's fast," said Aaron Smith, the Steelers' best defensive end in their 3-4 era who has been singing Ziggy's praises since last summer camp.

"He understands he has a lot to learn still. He learns it and then he uses it. Not everybody can do that. I think he's going to be a special player."

Hood has attracted plenty of attention at Saint Vincent for the way he has taken over his position. Unlike last year when they put him only at left end, he has played all three positions on the defensive line, including nose tackle.

Brentson Buckner spent 12 seasons playing on NFL defensive lines, his first three with the Steelers, and it did not take him long to notice Hood during his first week as a coaching intern.

"He's explosive, has strong hands, has a feel for the game and he's violent. That's the hardest thing to teach kids coming out of college. At this level, it's the intensity and the violence you have to play for. But he has that edge. He comes out ready to bite.

"When you have a guy who's 310 pounds, strong, fast and he has the motor, he has a chance to be great."

The only questions that follow Hood, the team's first-round draft choice in 2009, is where will he play and how much? The answer: Everywhere and often, yet he may not start unless there is an injury. Smith has been the starter at left end since 2000 and Brett Keisel at right end since 2006. The way the Steelers look at it, they have three starting ends now. Hood can play either side and give the ends rest periods during games.

"I don't have a problem with coming out of the game as long as there's no drop-off with the guy coming in," Keisel said. "I think that's when we've been at our best, when we've had a rotation of guys who can come in and play. It keeps us all fresh during the game and at the end of the season. The more guys we can have ready to play the better."

Whether he starts or not is not an issue for Hood. "I'd rather win than start. When you have two guys like that, I want to learn as much as I can when they're here. When they're gone, then it's me. It all falls on me."

More of it will fall on him this season.

Tough start for Dwyer

The Steelers were hoping that rookie Jonathan Dwyer would boost the running game, but after the first week of training camp, there has been nothing but disappointment.

The coaching staff was surprised when Dwyer reported much heavier than what they saw during his workouts in the spring. They list him as 5-11, 229. Then, he injured a hamstring the first day of camp and did not go through a full practice until Friday night.

Dwyer went up against rookie linebacker Thaddeus Gibson in a renowned blocking drill called backs on 'backers. Dwyer whiffed on his attempt to block Gibson. It was someone else's turn to go next but coach Mike Tomlin called for Dwyer and Gibson to do it again. And then again. And then again. Of the other three times, two were draws and Dwyer neatly guided Gibson to the outside the final time.

Several minutes later, however, during a soft goal-line drill, running backs coach Kirby Wilson chewed out Dwyer for something else. When Dwyer came off the field after that, he slammed his helmet on the ground in disgust, a feeling likely matched by his coaches.

Asked after Friday night's practice why Dwyer went four consecutive times in the backs on 'backers drill, Tomlin replied, "That's makeup reps. He still has a ways to go."

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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