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Steelers' Hood finding his groove

| Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, 11:49 p.m.
The Steelers' Ziggy Hood recovers a fumble from the Bills' C.J. Spiller in the second quarter of the Steelers' 38-7 preseason victory Saturday over Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Hood has impressed this preseason and appears poised to usher in a ner era along the defensive line. (Chaz Palla | Tribune Review)
Steelers defensive lineman Ziggy Hood hits Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick during a preseason game Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — For years, the Steelers relied on the old guard, a sentry of salty defensive linemen — Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith.

But time, age and injuries have ushered in a new era. The Steelers are transitioning, if reluctantly, to a younger defensive front.

In the past, the old guard would brush off talk of being replaced. Now they are accepting their roles as mentors to a young corps of linemen, including defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward and nose tackle Steve McLendon.

No one, it seems, learns faster than Hood.

Hood was clearly the most dominant linemen on either side of the ball as the Steelers thumped the Buffalo Bills, 38-7, at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Saturday night. The fourth-year lineman helped disrupt Buffalo's blocking schemes and forced quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Vince Young to flee the pocket.

“The longer I play, the more I can produce,” said Hood, who spent much of the offseason working on strength and conditioning. “I don't want to keep coming off the field to take a blow.”

Hood, with Keisel sidelined with a high left ankle sprain, didn't let up on the Bills. He was at full throttle from start to finish.

“Once we got comfortable, we played fast and comfortable,” McLendon said. “We pushed each other real hard, and Ziggy brought his A game like he has all preseason.”

Hood, though, wasn't nearly as impressed with his performance.

“It was far from my A game,” Hood said pointedly. “I still have a lot of things to clean up. It was an OK game for me.”

Hood was far more impressive than the stat sheet tally: three tackles, a fumble recovery, a pass defended and a quarterback hit. More importantly, Hood controlled the line of scrimmage by attracting two, sometimes three, blockers.

“That's what we do because we have to help each other out,” Hood said. “If we hold our point of attack, we can buy the cornerbacks a little more time to get their spots, and everything takes care of itself.”

Cornerback Ike Taylor said he doesn't pay attention to what goes on up front. Yet he admitted Hood and the defensive line made life relatively easy for the secondary, which surrendered only 192 yards passing as Fitzpatrick and Vince Young were a combined 19 of 44.

“We feel like when we are on the same page, all 11 guys, we are hard to stop,” Taylor said. “(Hood) made a couple of plays, and I think that helped turn things around.”

The shift in momentum came when safety Troy Polamalu intercepted Young. Then, rookie free-agent Robert Golden swiped a Young pass to set up a Byron Leftwich 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Derrick Williams that gave the Steelers a 28-7 advantage.

“Basically, we were trying to get the QBs off their timing,” Hood said. “We don't have to get sacks, but we have to free up our linebackers and cornerbacks to make plays.”

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

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