By JIM WEXELL
Charlie Casserly’s last
No. 1 draft pick as an NFL general manager was defensive end Mario Williams, a surprise choice over everyone else’s favorite No. 1, Reggie Bush.
Casserly was fired after the season, but his pick of Williams has proven to be the right one. Now a draft expert for NFL Network, Casserly attended Steelers practice on Thursday. Did he like anyone in particular?
“I like Ziggy Hood,” said the 28-year NFL personnel veteran. “I like his quickness, his movements, his body type
– stuff you can see better here in person than on tape.”
Everyone seems to like the Steelers’ first-round draft pick, and with good reason. On this day, the 300-pound Hood showed off his athleticism by running from sideline to sideline in pursuit of plays. When the defensive end got there in time, coach Mike Tomlin let everyone know it with a “That’s it Ziggy!”
“He’s looking good,” said Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton. “From what I’ve seen he does a special job using his hands. Most guys who come in from college are used to being quicker than everybody, and used to running through gaps or ripping through guys. I don’t know if it’s been (line coach John Mitchell) Mitch getting on him, or if he’s been coached like that, but he can use his hands and keep guys off of him.”
Hood was drafted to bolster a defensive line that’s first five players will average 32.8 years of age this season. It’s a veteran unit that’s still playing at a high level, and one that’s probably grown tired of hearing about its age. So Hood figured he’d get the cold shoulder from the group this spring.
“I expected them to say, ‘OK, rookie’s coming in to get my job and I can’t talk to him, can’t give him tricks of the trade,’” said Hood. “But right now, they’re showing me – not everything because there’s probably a lot more to learn
– but right now they’re showing me everything I need to help my game at this point.”
The development of proper hand usage is already a good sign. Hood said the biggest challenge right now is his playbook.
“The more confidence I have in my plays, the better my performance will be,” he said, adding: “It’s a lot more physical up front as opposed to going against a spread offense. These offensive linemen move like running backs on the line of scrimmage, so I’m trying to develop more speed off the ball.”
Any offensive lineman in particular?
“Is the right tackle No. 74?” Hood asked about Willie Colon. “He was an eye opener for me, something I had to go in the film room and watch. It was rough out there. The first practice was going fine until he came along, and that really opened me up because he came right at me like a raging bull. There was nothing I could do about it.”
He’ll learn. Hood was a 4-3 defensive tackle for Missouri in the wide-open Big 12 Conference, and will initially step into the same role with the Steelers on passing downs. The rookie said that he doesn’t want to be rushed, and Casserly said the Steelers’ organizational patience will benefit Hood greatly. However, Hampton doesn’t see Hood wearing a redshirt all season.
“He’s a first-round pick, so I don’t think he has too much of a choice,” Hampton said. “The starters are there but I think he should be able to help.”
So, Hampton’s optimistic, but with caution.
“You know, everybody looks good without the pads on,” he said. “If we put the pads on and he still looks good, I think he’s definitely going to help us.”
Jim Wexell is a free-lance writer who covers the Steelers for The Tribune-Democrat.