Hood among those ready to step up


By Teresa Varley

Without Aaron Smith in the lineup first-round pick Ziggy Hood will get a chance to prove what he can do. While Hood hasn't been tabbed as Smith's replacement, that job will be shared by Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason and Hood, he will definitely see more playing time.

"This is his time to step in and show everybody why they drafted him so high and the good player he is," said Farrior. "I am sure Ziggy is going to take heed to what Mike Tomlin is saying and he is going to bring it."

Hood knows he still has a lot of work to do to get his game where he wants it to be, but he has made a lot of progress since training camp and improves weekly.
"I feel pretty good for right now," said Hood. "There is a lot more to work on. With time it will grow. As games go on I will pick it up more and start to develop my own skills and techniques where it helps me on the field."

Smith's absence is going to be felt by his teammates who count on him not just for leadership, but for being an anchor for the defense.

"He is one of the best players on the team," said Farrior. "Our defense goes where he goes. Everybody has to pick their game up and rally around Aaron being out of the game. No matter who goes in the game our expectations don't change. We have been like that around here for years and years, before I even got here so we don't expect anything to change."

Hood has relied heavily on Smith's leadership and advice, learning from him daily, and knows that even though Smith won't be on the field with them for the remainder of the season, he still will provide plenty of guidance.

"It's hard to replace somebody like Big A because he is a leader on the line," said Hood. "We are losing a crafty vet who knows a lot about the game. With him gone, he will be on the sidelines helping us in case he sees something. He may see something or call something we may not have and aid us when we need it."

The Steelers lost two games this season, Chicago and Cincinnati, by giving up leads late in the game, and had to fight off late surges by San Diego and Detroit to come away with two wins.

It's not something that the players are used to, and it's not something they are happy about.
* "*I think we have to pick things up as a defense period," said linebacker LaMarr Woodley. "These last few weeks letting teams score on us in the fourth quarter, we can't do.  

"It's a little frustrating because we allow teams to stay around and to play with us in the fourth quarter, having a lot of mistakes throughout the game. You let teams stay around in the fourth quarter and it makes it a close game."

The defense is used to protecting the lead and being a dominant force, especially after leading the league last year. It's something they are hoping to fix soon.

"It's frustrating as a defensive player to know when we have the lead at the end of the game we are supposed to win," said Farrior. "We haven't always done that this season. We won a couple, but teams have been scoring on us. It's a concern, but as long as we get the win it's something we can go back and look at. But when you lose games at the end it becomes a concern."

        Polamalu returned to practice on Wednesday, going full strength for the first time since he suffered an MCL injury in the season-opener against the Titans.

"I feel good, thank God," said Polamalu, who is eager to play on Sunday against the Browns, and hopes to it all goes well in practice.

Polamalu has been a spectator the last four weeks, something he admitted wasn't as tough as he thought.

"I really enjoy watching my brothers play out there," said Polamalu. "I really feel like I am out there anyway. I ride the emotional rollercoaster of wins and losses if I played or didn't play.  

"Of course I want to play. I really enjoy being out there. But my role just changed a little bit, trying to help those guys on the sidelines rather than on the field with them."
Running back Willie Parker (toe) returned to practice on Wednesday as well. Trai Essex (ankle), Farrior (elbow), Andre Frazier (thigh) and Kirschke (back) did not practice.

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