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Ziggy Hood: Ahead of the Game

There are players in the game today whose tenacity never quite meets their talent, just as there are many names from the past whose work ethic never quite equaled what they were given. To reach true greatness, desire and ability must find a meeting place.

As much as anyone in the 2009 draft class, Missouri defensive tackle Evander "Ziggy" Hood has created that meeting place. He's a 6-3, 300-pound hulk with 4.8 speed and enough penetrative ability to total 22.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, eight pass deflections, and a blocked kick in his college career. But it's just as much about the determination that had him appearing in 12 games as a true freshman in 2005, coming back from a fractured foot after only three games missed in 2006, and named a team captain and Consensus All-Big 12 Conference first-team selection in 2008. Though Hood has impressed with his pure talent, he's also got people saying that he's more than the sum of his parts.

At Palo Duro High in Amarillo, Texas, he landed on Missouri's radar by accident. "I wasn't really heavily recruited -- I was recruited by UTEP, Baylor, TCU," Hood said in a recent interview. "But Missouri was looking into a quarterback that year, and a team we were playing against in Lubbock had the quarterback they were recruiting, but I had a standout game that year, and they chose me over him."

Born in February of 1987, Hood got his nickname from his Spanish-speaking grandmother. "She couldn't speak English, so she gave me a cartoon character's name." he said. "I'm pretty much "Ziggy" to everyone. Some teachers call me 'Evander,' but down the line, they just get tired of it and start calling me "Ziggy". If you call me 'Evander,' I probably won't recognize my own name, either!"

When "Ziggy" got to Missouri, he surprised by getting on the field sooner than later. "I went in there with the mindset that I was going to do my best, and I would try to play in my freshman year. Through that first summer, I got bigger, stronger, and faster."

Hood got off to a rocking start in 2006, getting a sack and forcing a fumble in his first college start against Murray State. He picked up another sack in the next game against Mississippi, but fractured his foot in the third game against New Mexico. "It was frustrating, because I started that season with the best two games of my early career, and it was going good until that injury happened. I just tried to do the best I could with rehab, staying healthy, and putting pressure on the foot as soon as possible after the surgery. Getting used to the pain, and the cutting and all the different things I would be doing [on the field]. I was just trying to come back, make my team better, and win my starting spot back."

Hood spent his first two seasons at different line positions -- he'd play nose tackle to stop opponents at the point, weak-side tackle to penetrate and make plays, and end on occasion. In 2007 and 2008, he found his true calling -- as a three-technique tackle, blasting through line gaps and stopping plays before they could even start.

"I try to judge on the width and depth of the quarterback, and how far I am away from the line of scrimmage," he said, when asked how technique defines what he does. "Where the ball is snapped and the depth of the quarterback. I try to come up with moves in my head, knowing that I have to have a good counter to whatever I do. When a lineman gives me something, I'm usually going to take it -- if he goes outside, I'll go inside. Or if he's coming down hard, I'll work to keep running ahead on him. I just try to do different things. The rip is probably the best move for me. It's fast enough, and probably more reliable than others. You come underneath the blocker, and you're just ripping up, like an uppercut.

"Our defense was a base 4-3 defense, with a lot of stunting. Pretty much a one-gap penetrating team, whatever gap I had, that's the gap I had to penetrate. Just trying to get back there and cause havoc in the opposing offense."

Still, the mental approach is most important, and that starts in the film room. "Right now, it's probably about 90 percent of my game, because the game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. If you go into a game knowing your opponent's strengths and weaknesses, you have more confidence in what you're doing. The game plan starts with film, and depending on what they're doing, you can execute a lot better than people who go in with no idea what they're going to do."

A primary technique with dominant tackles in a 4-3 defensive front is to wall them off to one side and run the play the other way. Tackles who play right on the center in a 3-4 set can find it easier to get into enemy backfields because they can slide off the blocker to one side or the other. "In the 3-4 defense, it's a lot easier because from the nose guard, it's just you and the center -- it's a one-on-one battle and you can go either way with it. You also get the run-ins with the guards on either side. It's generally easier for 3-4 linemen because it's just the ends and the tackles, center and the nose."

Hood has met with as many teams who run 3-4 defense as 4-3 -- New England, San Diego, and Denver among them -- as 3-4. He might be drafted as a 3-4 end at the next level. How does he think his skills would transfer? "Well, with the right coaching and right technique taught, I wouldn't have trouble adjusting because I'm eager to learn and I would accept change. It's not going to be too difficult for me to change, it's just something I have to work on very hard to get used to."

After his graduation in December, Hood got ready for the testing phase of his life: Senior Bowl, the Combine, and his Pro Day.

"I wanted to show that I could be a dominant defensive lineman," Hood said of his experiences. "I had my struggles, but it wasn't that I wasn't ready, I just need more time to learn and be taught that technique and stuff. I saw my mistakes, and I can learn from them. That's something I'm trying to correct right now and hopefully when I get to a team, I have a good platform for the team to work from.

What does he need to work on? "Trying to be more physical with the guard so you can avoid trouble with the double-team," he said. "The more physical you are with the guard, the less chance that you might get slid back towards the linebackers, because you got double-teamed. Then you got hand technique, hand-fighting when it comes to pass-rushing. But that's something that can be corrected and taught."

And what will the NFL team that takes Ziggy Hood be getting? "Somebody that's very passionate and wants to play. This is a life-long dream to really want go out there and perform and will do anything it takes to make himself better, and not only that, but make his team better."

It's the only answer you'd expect from someone proud of his devotion to himself, and to the game.

The Expert's Take

NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst (and fellow PreDraft Panelist) Rob Rang had this to say about Hood: "He's a productive player and a high-character guy. He was a significant contributor throughout his career at Missouri, and I think he really helped himself at the Senior Bowl. He doesn't have the elite lateral agility and closing burst that you like from an elite three-technique defensive tackle, but he's a high-effort guy who uses his hands well and has good strength. He's an instinctive player -- I think he's a safe pick in the late first round, and he'd certainly be a value in the high- to mid-second round.

"Looking at this year's defensive tackle class, you have B.J. Raji, who has some character concerns. There's Peria Jerry, who is a classic three-technique, but who is also flanked by a great deal of defensive talent on the Mississippi line. Ziggy Hood kind of did it on his own, and I think the fact that he worked out so well at the Combine, and was as impressive as he was at the Senior Bowl, has him moving up. I think he stands as the third defensive tackle in this draft class."

By Doug Farrar  |  April 19, 2009; 10:01 PM ET  | Category:  Doug Farrar , Draft Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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