Ziggy off to fast start

UNITY TWP. – Ziggy Hood just wanted his first practice at training camp to be better than his last practice in the spring. The first-round pick did that and more.

"I just watched the film and he really did have a good practice," said one team source.

"He was throwing people around," said another.

"I wouldn't say ‘Throwing people around,'" Hood said with an embarrassed laugh. "I was probably getting thrown around a bit myself."

Humility won't get Hood everywhere with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the young defensive end is off to a strong start.

Not that it was noticeable to the layman, or even the journalist, but the professionals watching the practice tape saw a young end carry out his assignments like a grown man.

"Even I needed to watch the film before I felt good about the practice," Hood said. "Overall, I felt I had a great practice, but I'm always more concerned about getting better in the next practice."

In Hood's second practice, in his first one-on-one drill in pads, he drew third-rounder Kraig Urbik, the big guard from Wisconsin. Hood performed so well that Urbik came under fire from Coach Mike Tomlin.

"I wouldn't say I embarrassed him," Hood said. "I probably got him once and he came at me the second time and got the best of me."

Urbik came back with a better showing against Hood on Sunday, but Hood's athleticism is obvious.

"Right now we're both just looking for playing time, really, and just trying to make each other better," Hood said.

UP, DOWN O-LINE

Trai Essex is off to a strong start at right guard. In fact, he could replace Darnell Stapleton full-time after Stapleton's fill-in stint at center ends.

Yet, using Essex at guard would create a depth problem at tackle, where Tony Hills has performed poorly thus far.

The 2008 fourth-round pick had the worst first day of all linemen, and he wasn't much better Sunday. Hills stopped Bruce Davis on the first rush, but was beaten – sometimes badly – the rest of the way.

On a positive note, undrafted tackle Ramon Foster played well at left guard Sunday. In the one-on-one drills, Foster planted Jordan Reffett on his back and then stopped Reffett a second time. Foster also put Scott Paxson on the ground, causing line coach Larry Zierlein to shout, "We're having a Ramon day!"

Foster also pulled into the strong side during the run scrimmage and blew open a hole for Rashard Mendenhall. The block occurred at the expense of a third-teamer, but look for the coaching staff to increase the level of competition against Foster in the next couple of days.

PLAYS TOO HARD?

Ryan Clark was telling reporters that he hoped the Steelers were "7-0, or whatever" when they travel to Denver for a Monday night game on Nov. 7, "so I won't have to play."

Clark, of course, became ill his last two trips to Denver. The second illness – sparked by his sickle cell trait – resulted in the loss of his spleen and gall bladder.

"Hopefully they'll figure it all out," he said of the doctors and coaches. "I want to play, but I'm not going to risk my life or my career to play a game."

Clark is only 29 and together with Troy Polamalu forms what coordinator Dick LeBeau calls "head and shoulders the best safety tandem in the league." Yet, Clark isn't being offered a chance to extend his contract this offseason. Is it due to his health issues and the fact he threw his body into two shoulder injuries last season?

"I choose not to get into it right now," Clark said. "I want to like (Business Coordinator) Omar (Khan). I want to like Kevin (Colbert). I want to like Coach Tomlin. Right now I just want to keep a positive attitude about everything. Sometimes during those contract negotiations you may hear something like that. I went through it with the Redskins and they brought up my surgeries and the way I threw my body around. Those are things, supposedly, that they liked about me, so sometimes you're right: When it comes time for contract talks, it's a negative. Right now it's not even a situation where we're talking about it like that."

Tomlin appreciates Clark's positive attitude. Here's what the coach said after Sunday's practice:

"The thing that I appreciate about Ryan Clark, and it's a special talent, is he doesn't have a bad day. He's always up. He's mentally tough. Those are the things I appreciate about him. His story's his story, but we've got a lot of guys with stories. That's what's great about this game."

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