ARLINGTON, Texas — Because it appears that Steelers DE Aaron Smith — the man who is called "underrated" so often that it's probably not fair to call him underrated anymore — is not going to play in Super Bowl XLV, turn your attention to his replacement.
Ziggy Hood, who was the Steelers' first-round draft pick in 2009, is just now starting to make his mark. He played in all 16 games as a rookie but mostly filled in about "15 or 20 plays a game," Hood estimated, for Smith.
That continued through Week Seven of this season, when Smith went down with a triceps injury that probably will keep him out Sunday. Hood took over in Week Eight and didn't put up big numbers initially but finished strong with three sacks in his final five regular-season games. He added a big sack of Joe Flacco in the comeback win over the Ravens and, along with Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley, saw something in the stance of Jets ORT Wayne Hunter that made them both think pass even though the Jets were near the goal line in the AFC championship game.
"Something just didn't smell right," Hood said. "I could tell by the way the guy (Hunter) was setting up. Film study helps with that. So I played pass."
So did Woodley, who knocked down a pass in what ended up being a game-changing goal-line stand in the game that sent their team to Dallas.
Although Hood refers to himself as "the goofball" in the team's D-line meetings, fellow DE Brett Keisel said that hasn't stopped Hood from putting his best foot forward. "Ziggy is coming into his own," Keisel said. "I don't know if 'goofball' is the right word, but he does have a lot of fun, which is what he brings: youth and energy.
"It's not easy stepping in and filling Aaron Smith's shoes. But the kid has done everything he's asked to do. He's worked, he's studied hard and he has his chance to win his first Super Bowl, which is awesome."
Hood has local ties. The population of Amarillo, Hood's hometown, is around 200,000, but he said he felt like the whole town could fit into Cowboys Stadium. Several friends and family will make the 360-mile trek to Arlington for the game, but those who won't make it will be watching at home. "Sometimes I feel like the whole town is behind me," Hood said.
He'll be ready. Hood said he has felt like he belongs in the starting lineup since that Week Eight game against the Saints.
"I was going out there and holding down the blocks and everything," he said. "I had a lot of pressure on me. But once I got into the game, I knew I was capable of doing it for a long time."
You'll see Hood on Sunday as either a four- or five-technique, battling Packers rookie ORT Bryan Bulaga.
"He's quick and strong, and it looks like he doesn't give a lot of ground," Bulaga said. "He'll be tough."