With Brett Keisel set to be sidelined for this Sunday’s game, Ziggy Hood will make his third start in the last four games for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Although Hood was benched in favor of the rapidly improving Cameron Heyward earlier this season, the veteran has stepped up in recent weeks to fill the void left by Keisel’s absence at the right defensive end position. The former Missouri Tigers has tallied 13 tackles and 1.0 sack during his last three games, and he provided some excellent pocket collapse against the Detroit Lions in Week 11.
Granted, the defensive end and pending free agent has by no means lived up to the expectations that were placed upon him as the team’s first round pick back in 2009. Yet Keisel’s durability and the lack of experienced depth at the defensive end position could make Hood someone the Steelers try to sign to a new contract during the offseason.
Remember readers, Keisel’s current contract expires this spring and I have a hard time believing that the Steelers will try to ink the 35 year-old veteran to another deal. While cap space is scare, Keisel’s lingering foot injury could force Pittsburgh’s brass to look at other options.
As far as the depth behind Keisel and Heyward is currently concerned, Al Woods is the team’s top backup at the nose tackle position and is far less experienced from a playing time at the defensive end spot than Hood is. In addition, rookie seventh round pick Nick Williams has been on IR throughout the 2013 campaign, and rookie UDFA Brian Arnfelt is still on the team’s practice squad.
While I am not implying that the Steelers need to break the bank for Hood in an attempt to extend him, the lack of depth at the position and the mystery of adding another rookie to the defensive end mix has to weight heavily on the minds of those in charge in Pittsburgh.
Hood’s familiarity with Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme, familiarity with his position coach John Mitchell, and the lack of experienced players potentially at the position next fall definitely work in the veteran’s favor. Of course, Pittsburgh has plenty of players who will be up for contract extensions after this season in addition to Hood.
Guys like Jason Worilds and Jerricho Cotchery have made strong cases to stay in Pittsburgh with their play this fall, and the team’s brass could elect to re-sign Keisel if they believe that he has some solid play left in his tank and he is a cheaper option moving forward.
With those things in mind, it will be extremely interesting to see if Pittsburgh’s 2009 first round pick is offered a new contract by those in charge of his cap-strapped front office after the 2013 campaign concludes.
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