Steelers rookie Hood off to strong start
By Scott Brown and John Harris
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Steelers rookie Ziggy Hood isn't just making the transition from college to the NFL, but also from tackle in a 4-3 defense to an end in a 3-4.
So far, the first-round pick is playing as well as could be expected, said 12-year veteran Aaron Smith, arguably one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL
"He's progressed faster than anybody I've ever seen do it before," Smith said. "He's still got a ways to go, but as far as a rookie in camp, he's progressed much faster than I've ever seen."
Smith said Hood has done so well through the first half of training camp that he expects the former Missouri star to make an impact this season even though the Steelers are deep at defensive end.
"He's going to be a really good player for a really long time," Smith said. "He gets it. He's a smart kid and works hard."
When told of the praise Smith lavished on him, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Hood said, "It makes you feel good, but it also makes you want to work harder because he does a lot. And for him to say that, you've got to keep that going every day and can't just rely on what he said and lay back for the rest of the season."
Steelers sign center
With starting center Justin Hartwig (toe) unlikely to play Thursday night in a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals and Darnell Stapleton (knee) out for the 8 p.m. contest, the Steelers signed Alex Stepanovich on Monday to add depth to the position.
The Steelers released defensive tackle Jordan Reffet to make room on the roster for Stepanovich.
"We'll see what we can do as far as getting him up to speed and being able to participate (Thursday)," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "but it's great to have a guy there."
Stepanovich has played for the Cardinals, Bengals and Falcons during a five-year career and has made 34 starts in the NFL.
The 6-4, 296-pounder spent yesterday morning in meetings and practiced with the team in the afternoon.
A former teammate of Santonio Holmes at Ohio State, Stepanovich gives the Steelers another healthy center to go with second-year man Doug Legursky and rookie A.Q. Shipley.
When asked if he could learn enough of the offense to play Thursday, Stepanovich said, "I don't know. I'm just glad I found (where to eat) breakfast and lunch already."
A pleasant surprise
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he was touched that former Steelers great Rod Woodson stumped for his inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame last Saturday.
During his induction speech, Woodson said LeBeau, a cornerback for the Lions from 1959-72, should also be immortalized in Canton, Ohio.
"What a tremendous honor it was in there and what a great compliment to me that he spoke of me in that light," said LeBeau, whose 62 career interceptions are tied for seventh on the NFL's all-time list. "I was surprised. The bottom line, Rod Woodson did 100 times more for me than I ever did for him."
Running back Willie Parker (back) and nose tackle Casey Hampton (knee) were among those who didn't practice yesterday afternoon.
"Hamp will be back very soon," Tomlin said. "Willie Parker's the same."
Also not practicing were running back Mewelde Moore (hamstring) and wide receivers Martin Nance (hamstring) and Brandon Williams (abdomen).
After reviewing tape of Sunday's goal-line drill, Tomlin said Smith and fellow defensive end Brett Keisel stood out because of their individual efforts. ... This afternoon's 2:55 p.m. practice is the last one open to fans until Saturday.
Inside the ropes
A daily look at the best parts of the Steelers' training camp in Latrobe:
INCREASED WORKLOAD: With Willie Parker (back) sidelined, second-year running back Rashard Mendenhall received most of the carries Monday afternoon, along with rookie Isaac Redman. Considering the Steelers conduct their final practices today prior to Thursday's preseason opener against Arizona at Heinz Field, Mendenhall likely will be the starter if Parker doesn't practice.
COMEBACKER: When tight end Heath Miller uncharacteristically dropped a couple of passes yesterday, it wasn't surprising that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went right back to him. Nor was it surprising to see the normally sure-handed Miller, who is back to full participation following sports hernia surgery, respond with a tough catch in tight quarters.
BOWLED OVER: That's what occured linebacker Andre Frazier tangled with safety Ryan Mundy during a kickoff-return drill. Mundy stood his ground, while Frazier simply ran over him. Both players did their job, but Frazier was much more efficient in doing his.
COACH PARADE: Add Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon to the list of college coaches with local ties who have attended Steelers training camp. Louisville basketball coach John Calipari, a Moon native, attended last week, as did West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart.