Friday, April 13, 2012

Ziggy Hood: Is It All Good In The Hood?

We know more about sports than ever before. We have analysts who break down camera angles that capture every aspect of a player's performance. We have so much access anymore to games, game film and mindless stats that we can become much more educated than ever before. Average fans, even ones who never played a single down at any level are infinitely more knowledgeable than the average fan just 25 years ago.

Yet, with all that we have at our disposal, we still can't effectively measure a player's frangibility, will, determination or heart. And because of that a 6'3" 235 lb. linebacker built like he was forged out of stone and who can run a 4.5 40 yard dash can be outplayed by one who is 6'4" 250 lbs, is built like he eats at Coldstone creamery and runs a 4.98 in the 40.

That being said, something has become somewhat evident and should be brought into the light: it's time for Ziggy Hood to prove that he is the future at left defensive end or the Steelers need to consider moving on.

Bold statement, I know. But hear me out.

Evander "Ziggy" Hood was drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Missouri. He was drafted to be groomed as Aaron Smith's replacement and ended up having to do so sooner than expected as injuries marred the end of Smith's career.

But, to this point, Ziggy has only been the successor to Smith, not truly his replacement.

Smith was a rock at left defensive end for the Steelers for the better part of 12 years. He was the immovable object who thwarted opponents' supposed irresistible forces at running back, accumulating 453 tackles. He even rushed the quarterback on occasion, garnering 44 over his career. For his efforts Smith was named to Sports Illustrated's 2000s All-Decade Team.

Typically, though, the defensive end in a 3-4 scheme isn't going to have gaudy stats as generally it's his job to clear a path for the linebackers. Numbers nonetheless are a gauge. That said, if you go by the numbers, Ziggy's 31 tackles last year to go along with 1.5 sacks in his 14 starts, would seem to be on par with Smith's average numbers.

Both players were college standouts as well, with Smith being Northern Colorado's all-time sacks leader and Ziggy, despite constant double-team coverage, collected 10 sacks, 15 stops behind the line of scrimmage and 16 quarterback pressures his last two seasons. -

Ziggy played different positions along the line in college, but was mainly at end in Missouri's 4-3 scheme. The Steelers thought Ziggy could play two-gap at the NFL level, but they may have been wrong. Ziggy actually seems best suited as a 2- or 3-technique, one-gap player.

For those unfamiliar with those terms, the "gaps" are the spaces in between the center and guards, guards and tackle(s) and finally tackle(s) and tight end. The A, B, C and potentially D gaps. What "technique" boils down to is the physical location where the players line up before the snap in relation to an opposing player. The most basic technique is 0- technique where the nose tackle lines up directly across from the center. In the 1- technique, the player is lined up over the center’s outside shoulder and in the 2- technique, over the guard’s inside shoulder and so on and so forth. I’m just keeping it basic, folks.

Now, in his defense, Ziggy does that well. The problem is that having a 3-4 defensive end who is only one-gap, 2- or 3-technique sound puts excess pressure on your outside linebackers.

As opposed to in that of the 4-3 defense, the outside linebacker in the 3-4 is used more in rushing the quarterback and, because of more gap control responsibilities, there are typically fewer stunts run out of the 3-4. So, much of the onus is on the outside linebacker.

Still, the outside linebacker is going to benefit from a defensive end who is able to occupy the blockers.

It isn't as if Ziggy can't improve, of course, in fact he has shown signs of improvement, but some things he can't truly change. Like his build.

Aaron Smith and even Brett Keisel are both built similarly, solid cores with long arms, whereas Ziggy is comparatively larger chested with shorter arms. He's also heavier, reportedly having reached 310 rock-hard pounds, than the aforementioned Smith (298 lbs) and Keisel (285 lbs). It's pure speculation, of course, that his build (wingspan) and mass & density affect his agility and overall, but it may be something worth tracking.

Considering his size and significant strength, the theory of him playing full-time at nose tackle has been brought up by many. I even tossed the idea around at one time. Let me address that here and now: Ziggy has no shot as nose tackle.

For emergencies and possibly specific sub-packages, maybe he could play the nose tackle position. It would only, though, be in those situations, not for an entire season. Ziggy did take snaps at that NT last season, but he'd be out of his comfort zone with such a complete position shift.

Ziggy did handle the double teams when he lined up at defensive end last year -- he can definitely stuff the run. What's disconcerting is that he brings little to the table as an interior rusher on passing downs. Improvements are being made, but they're slow-moving.

In brief, this article started off speaking of analysis of players and often how their seemingly minute aberrations can translate into big differences in quality on the field.

Then the comparison was made between Ziggy and Aaron Smith. Is the juxtaposition unfair? Maybe. Is Ziggy as good as Smith? No.

Unfair or not, Smith is the benchmark. He is the standard by which whomever was to succeed him would be measured. And as Ziggy has heard many times before, "the standard is the standard."