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Friday, May 31, 2013, 7:21 p.m.
 

There are times when Ziggy Hood looks every bit the part of what the Steelers envisioned when they used their first-round pick on him four years ago.

Then there are the other times — times that have become too familiar — when Hood resembles a rookie still trying to grasp the basics of transitioning to a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.

And now, Hood is running out of time.

Hood, 26, enters the final year of his contract entrenched as the Steelers starting left defensive end, but he still is a work in progress despite 39 starts over the past three years.

“You are always going to have things to work on; I am not going to deny that,” Hood said.

“Last year was a good step for me. It wasn't the season that I would say was the best, but the positives outweighed the negatives.”

There were plenty of both for Hood.

There was Ziggy “good” with 24 of his 42 tackles coming over a five-game span in December, including an eight-tackle, one-sack game against San Diego.

And there was Ziggy “not so good” with one-tackle games against the Jets, Raiders and Browns and being held without a tackle against the Titans despite playing 62 snaps.

Hood's inconsistencies can be traced to his technique.

Hood's erratic footwork and hand placement have caused him enough problems that defensive line coach John Mitchell has made it a point of emphasis.

Linebacker coach Keith Butler acknowledged that last month.

“Ziggy Hood has some technical stuff that John has to work with him on,” Butler said. “And John knows about that, so we're going to try to get those things clarified and work that out … ”

Hood has spent the offseason, including the first two weeks of organized team activities, working on being consistent with his footwork and hand placement.

“If your hand placement and your footwork isn't good, you aren't going to be in the correct position to make a play,” Hood said. “Small things like that will always get you in the right place. It may not get you there all the time, but you will be there more often than not.”

Hood had issues with both techniques last year.

There were times when his bad footwork put him out of position, which made him easier to block. Other times, improper hand placement made it impossible for him to shed a block and make a tackle even though he was in position to make a play.

“I have to keep doing what I am doing with the technique and continue to work,” Hood said. “I can always tweak my technique and keep getting better. The most important thing I do is to make sure I do my job so the outside guys can make the play.”

The Steelers had the No. 1 overall defense last year and were fourth against the run, and they have options if Hood doesn't perform well.

Cameron Heyward, a first-round pick in 2011, is backing up Hood and Brett Keisel.

Keisel, who will turn 35 in September, also is in the final year of his deal, which might make it difficult to part with Hood after this year.

“My contract is the last thing on my mind,” Hood said.

“The only thing on my mind is getting better each and every day. What can I do today to make sure I don't repeat whatever I did wrong yesterday. The ultimate goal this year is to be the best I can possibly be.”

How good can that be?

“Hopefully great,” Hood said.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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