The Steelers are going to have an all out battle on their hands at the left defensive end position during training camp. Fourth year player Ziggy Hood will take on second year player Cameron Heyward for the spot that has been held down by Aaron Smith for so many years. Both players have high expectations and are willing to put in the work. This will be a fun battle to watch.
I was not sure if this was going to be a battle this year as I thought Heyward would play a spot role behind Brett Keisel and prepare to take his spot next season. Heyward is more suited for that role and will dominate that position when he gets the chance. It did not come to my attention that this would happen until Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette made light of it this summer. These two will compete for that spot and either way the Steelers win. Neither one of these guys will let this team down.
Ziggy Hood is the incumbent at the position so lets start with him. Hood took over in the past 2 seasons for Aaron Smith each time he went down with injury. Hood had a very impressive 2010 filling for Smith. He recorded 20 tackles and 3 sacks. It was a good first year for Hood as a starter.
Hood was held back this season as the Steelers tried to keep Smith on the field until he was injured again. Hood had more tackles in his second season starting but less splash plays. His play did not decline but people expected a break out year for Hood when he returned to the lineup and that did not happen.
Hood has taken that as motivation and has spent this entire offseason working out hard. He has posted some videos of himself working out and showing how strong he is. Hood also dropped his body fat from 24 to 18% and is looking lean and mean. He dropped 18 pounds of fat and replaced it with 20 pounds of muscle. Hood is looking good. He is showing what he is willing to do to give his best for this team.
I posted an article a few weeks back about how Hood is under estimated by many around Pittsburgh. He is playing the way he is expected to be playing. He takes up blockers and that gives the linebackers lanes to make plays. He is becoming a five tech. He is learning his craft. He is doing what the Steelers need him to do.
If Ziggy Hood wins this position over Heyward he will get a chance to show what he can do for a full season. It will be the first time Hood plays a full 16 games as a starter instead of filling in once someone gets hurt. That could make a big difference in how Hood is viewed by many. He will not have to start and stop. He can just go out and play his game.
Then there is Cameron Heyward. Heyward played sparingly in his rookie season. When he did play though he showed some flashes of brilliance. His play in the preseason showed his strength and his potential for the future. Heyward is trying to make that future now. He is not going to wait for Keisel to hang up his cleats, he wants to play this year. That is a great attitude to have.
Heyward has the entire offseason this year to prepare for this season. With the lockout last year Heyward was unable to work out with coaches. He was behind in learning the system and did not get a chance to learn in minicamp or OTAs as there were none. He was behind the eight ball from the beginning. That lack of ability to learn cost Heyward as he could have gotten a lot more playing time with the knowledge he lost out on.
Now that Heyward can work out with his teammates and can talk to the coaches he is picking more of the defense up and is looking to step up this year. Heyward was drafted as a 5 tech. He did not have to learn as much about the position as Hood did as he spent much time playing that technique at Ohio State. They use a similar version to the Steelers defense from time to time.
It is hard to pick between these two. They both would be a great fit for the defense. I think Heyward will be more disruptive in the backfield and as a pass rusher but Hood will help more with the addition of Larry Foote at Buck Linebacker. He will take up more blockers and make a bigger hole for Foote and Woodley to make plays.
That being said the goal of the five tech is to make the linebackers better while you do the dirty work. I think Heyward will have to wait one more year. Hood has already played the position and he did well. With the new body image and his work ethic I believe Hood will win this job even though it will be close. Heyward will be a rotational player who can play either side and can help spell both of these guys to keep the line fresh. That is the best option for this team.
Left Defensive End