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Steelers defensive end Hood out for more 'splash plays'

| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers defensive tackle Ziggy Hood plays against the Chiefs on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Ziggy Hood knows in the increasingly expansive world of social media, everything he does on the football field will be scrutinized.

The Steelers defensive end keeps his distance from cyberspace, in part, because he views it as a distraction.

It's not that Hood's skin isn't thick enough. It's about focusing on his responsibilities with football and family.

“I can care less what other people think,” Hood said. “I guarantee you if those folks played this position, they wouldn't last one day doing it.”

Hood, who didn't miss a game his first four seasons, enters this year carrying the burden of greater expectations. His detractors are demanding he bolster his numbers from 2012: three sacks, 40 tackles and no forced fumbles.

“I do whatever coaches tell me to do, and if that is to bring the heat on the quarterback, then I'll do it,” Hood said. “I'm never trying to make a play for myself. It's all about the team.”

While the numbers pale in comparison to other defensive ends in the AFC ­— including J.J. Watt of Houston and Elvis Dumervil of Baltimore — Hood said repeatedly it's not about individual numbers. Instead, he points to the Steelers' defense being ranked No. 1 in the NFL the past two seasons.

Still, the expectations are that Hood could apply more pressure on quarterbacks. And he could jar the ball loose more often, considering the Steelers were No. 2 against the run in the AFC last season.

“I'm always going to strive to be the best at whatever I do,” Hood said. “I want to be the best husband, the best father and best defensive end.

“My whole perception hasn't change. I want to help this defense achieve its main goal of beingNo. 1 and helping this team get into the playoffs.”

For the most part, Hood's role in the Steelers' 3-4 defense is different than that of Watts, who had an NFL-best 20 12 sacks in 2012. The defensive front, which also consists of end Brett Keisel and first-year starting nose tackle Steve McLendon, is to keep blockers clear of the linebackers.

“It takes a guy who isn't selfish to allow other guys to make plays,” Hood said. “Whatever you do, you can't let your guys go and then the linebacker can't make plays. We do a great job of letting this defense flourish.

“Sure, it's hard to compete with J.J. Watts or other guys putting up big numbers. It's totally different defenses, which allow their playmakers to make plays. When we have an opportunity to make splash plays, we have to take advantage of it.”

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau isn't worried about Hood. For him, numbers don't matter.

“Our defense is built on the defensive line,” LeBeau said. “They might not be the ones to get the splash plays, but if the defensive line isn't getting where they need to get, then you sure enough aren't going to defend a running back like Chris Johnson.

“Ziggy is a constant contributor to our defense. The one thing we like about Ziggy is he's always ready to play.”

Hood is ready to silence his critics.

Yet, McLendon argues that only a few understand what his teammate's role is on a defense in which linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley are the playmakers.

“We don't want you to understand what we do,” McLendon said. “We just want you to see how successful we are. We want to be No. 1 in defense. We'll let our linebackers make the plays, but we'll keep them clean.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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