PITTSBURGH -- While his achievements won't be viewed as dominant, the numbers Ziggy Hood put up against the Detroit Lions last Sunday certainly could be construed as a breakout performance.
Hood, the Pittsburgh Steelers No. 1 pick from Missouri in 2009, returned to the starting lineup and recorded five total tackles, including four solo, one sack for minus-7 yards, two total stops behind the line and a quarterback hurry. He played left defensive end for the Steelers, while 2011 No. 1 pick Cam Heyward moved to the right side for injured veteran Brett Keisel.
"No doubt he can play both the left and right,'' Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "Ziggy has played a whole lot at left, but all those guys end up playing on both sides. And both played really well last week.
"Cam was swinging back and forth for Keisel and Ziggy, so Cam probably is more at home playing on either side. And without Brett in there last week, Ziggy played left and Cam played right. But all those guys could play either side.
Hood started the Steelers opening two games at left end, against Tennessee and at Cincinnati, while Heyward rotated in as a pass-rusher. However, Heyward started against Chicago for Hood and six straight games after that, beginning with the New York Jets, as Hood failed to produce.
For some reason, things just clicked for Hood against the Lions. He played off blocks, something that he has struggled with previously, and made some plays.
"I took the majority of the snaps last week in practice, so when you take more snaps you get a better feel for the game,'' Hood said. "Then, come Sunday, it just comes easy. ... When you have positive practices Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, it shows in the games. It's never guaranteed, but it's always a plus when you can showcase what you did all week.''
Keisel practiced on a limited basis Friday and is questionable for Sunday due to his foot issues. If Keisel's plantar fasciitis does not react negatively to his Friday workout, he could play some against the Browns.
"I didn't do a whole lot,'' Keisel said. "But I did enough to engage with an offensive lineman, put weight on it and moved laterally, all those things you need to do on Sundays. I don't know if it can get worse or not. Hopefully, it won't, but it's one of those things where you have to just go out and work and see what happens.''
Hood has 26 total tackles this season, including 20 solo, two sacks for minus-9 yards, seven quarterback hurries and one pass breakup, but still no forced fumbles in five NFL seasons. Still, Hood noted that he doesn't feel any additional pressure to make a splash play, even if his opportunities are limited.
"Things are just going to work out on their own,'' Hood said. "I just have to be ready to make the play if it's there, but I can't try to do too much. I just have to do my job, and we'll see what happens when it comes.''
This doesn't seem to be an attitude that would manifest into strong play. It appears to be passive, actually, but maybe this is what works for the good-natured Hood.
Hood, the strongest Steelers player, has always looked the part of a D-line destroyer at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds. But his technique has not been sharp, for the most part, and he might be better served as a nose tackle in the 3-4 defense instead of an end. Possibly a switch with Steve McLendon would be in order to boost his play as well.
In any event, this is a make-or-break season for Hood. He originally signed a five-year, $8.7 million rookie contract, which expires after this season. The agreement included $6.1 million guaranteed, but another $2.6 million is available through escalators. His base salary this year is $715,000, and he is unlikely to be re-signed to a huge, multi-year extension unless his play continues to improve markedly.