By BOB LABRIOLA
For the fifth consecutive summer, the Pittsburgh Steelers will open training camp with their first-round draft choice under contract.
The Steelers came to an agreement on Saturday afternoon with defensive end Ziggy Hood, their No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Because the Steelers are the reigning Super Bowl champions, Hood was the 32nd pick of the first round. The contract is a five-year deal.
Training camp is set to open for the 2009 Steelers on Friday, July 31 when players must report to Saint Vincent College by 4 p.m.
There was a time when a first-round pick rarely was signed in time for the opening of training camp, and in fact it came to a point when even a minimal delay in getting a deal done was seen as a victory.
But since Heinz Field opened for the 2001 season, the Steelers never have had their No. 1 pick miss even one week of camp. Casey Hampton missed two days; Kendall Simmons missed one; Troy Polamalu missed three; and Ben Roethlisberger missed four, and even that is a very short duration considering he was a quarterback picked 11th overall.
But since Roethlisberger, the Steelers have gotten deals done with Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes, Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall and now Hood – all in time for the start of camp.
Hood reportedly was running sprints on the Missouri campus with former teammates when he learned of the agreement with the Steelers.
As of the time of the agreement with Hood on Saturday afternoon, only three other first-round picks had signed. Matthew Stafford signed before the draft began; the Jets got quarterback Mark Sanchez signed before most teams were finished with their minicamps; and the Cleveland Browns got a deal done with Alex Mack late last week just as they were about to become the first NFL team to report to camp.