LATROBE – There’s a new YouTube video of a woman at Yellowstone National Park moving into close range to snap a picture of a bison. A stick flies through the air and smacks the bison in the butt, sending the bison into a rampaging fury after the poor woman.
That bison looked like Ziggy Hood on the first day of training camp.
“What a difference a year makes!” Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin exclaimed after Hood stampeded first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey.
Pouncey wasn’t alone. A variety of Steelers offensive linemen felt Ziggy’s wrath, as last year’s No. 1 pick showed he’s ready to live up to his enormous potential as a Steelers’ 3-4 end.
“I’m a lot better,” Hood said when asked to compare this year to his rookie year. “I’m going out trying to get better instead of worrying about who’s looking at me or what I’ve got to do to look good on tape. I’m just more relaxed and going out there and playing football.”
Hood looked far from relaxed Saturday as he used his long arms and quick feet to tear up his one-on-one opponents. But can too much be made of an individual drill?
“No, because that’s the way he practices,” said line coach John Mitchell. “And he’s improving daily. That’s the thing I like about Ziggy Hood: He’s never satisfied with the day he had. He’s going to come in today wanting to be better than he was yesterday.”
Mitchell said that Hood played as well during the team scrimmages as he did in the one-on-ones, but of course the Steelers’ scheme doesn’t really allow for a defensive end to knock his man to the ground and step on his face.
“I got them off balance once or twice,” the ever-humble Hood explained. “It happens to everybody. I’m pretty sure they’re going to get me somewhere down the line, maybe today. I’m just happy that all the work seems to be paying off.”
Hood has developed a reputation throughout the organization as a maniac in the weight room, a workout warrior striving to reach an elite class with the likes of James Harrison.
“I don’t know about that,” Hood said. “But it’s just a habit for me: When I work, I work.”
Hood spent the offseason living in the Steelers’ weight room. Each day he warmed up with a cardio exercise for 30 minutes, then lifted for two hours, and then performed football-type drills. With the start of camp, he remains a daily visitor, but will lighten his weight loads to save energy for practice. He hasn’t gained any weight, but has lowered his body fat to 21 percent.
“There’s still room to get lower than that,” the 300-pounder said.
Some in the organization worry that Hood might overtrain, that he needs to take more time off. But Hood said he knows his body too well. Mitchell just laughed at the idea.
“Young guys can’t overtrain,” Mitchell said.
Hood, of course, is stuck somewhere on the Steelers’ bench behind Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. So Mitchell’s given him a few reps at nose tackle because “the more you can do; you never know how injuries are going to unfold.”
And like a hitter who batters the outfield wall every time up, coaches will find a way to get a rampaging bison on the field.
“Definitely,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got six guys who can play and we’re going to rotate guys. That’s what I told them yesterday. We’re going to rotate guys and we’re going to have our first wave and then we’re going to bring our second wave in and then we’re going to bring the first wave back and we’re just going to storm the beach with those six guys. We’re coming after those guys.
“They’re going to play. We’re not going to let any good football player sit the bench.”