RICHMOND — Ziggy Hood knows the last grains of sand are slipping through the hourglass that is his football career. Walking off the field after a recent Washington Redskins training camp practice, the 29-year-old defensive lineman, who was drafted 32nd overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, thought about his peers that entered the league with him.
Eight players drafted in that first round, including four of the first 10 picks, are either retired or free agents. That number increases steadily through the seventh and final round.
“It’s bound to happen to me,” Hood said. “I won’t be able to play forever. How much longer can I go? I don’t like to think about it. As long as I stay in shape, keep working, I’m gonna be all right.”
After a year marred by injury and uncertainty, Hood signed a one-year deal with the Redskins in February and is finding a way to prolong the inevitable end to his playing career. He’s emerged as a contender for playing time on the Redskins’ crowded defensive line, endearing himself to the coaching staff with the ability to play all three positions along the team’s base 3-4 defense.
Hood, who primarily played defensive end in his first five seasons with the Steelers, initially caught coach Jay Gruden’s attention in training camp in the individual pass rushing drills. Playing in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme, which heavily emphasizes two-gap responsibilities, also prepared Hood to play nose tackle.
The Redskins chose not to re-sign Terrance Knighton after one season and brought back veteran Kedric Golston. They also drafted Matt Ioannidis in the fifth round. As Hood continued to progress, the Redskins have found a way to get him on the field. One of the best looks in practice for the base defense has been Hood, flanked by Chris Baker and Kendall Reyes at defensive end. Hood played 22 percent of the defensive snaps in the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, rotating between nose tackle and defensive end when the defense was in its nickel package.
“The ability for him with the size and strength that he has to play all three spots is exciting,” Gruden said. “Ziggy has definitely showed up. He’s been one of the brightest spots in camp.”
The likelihood of Hood making the Redskins appeared slim when he signed a contract in February after playing just two games in 2015. Hood, who signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014, never missed a game in his first six seasons. In the Jaguars’ final preseason game last year, Hood tore the plantar fascia in his left foot.
Jacksonville released him Oct. 20 and he signed with the Chicago Bears two days later. When Hood was initially injured, the Amarillo, Texas native made a quick recovery.
“I never really had to deal with an injury that serious before,” Hood said. “They told me I wasn’t going to be doing anything for eight or nine weeks. I was squatting 315 [pounds] at three weeks. I’m Texas Tough. That’s how we’re born and raised.”
Still, Hood never quite fit in with the Bears and was released in December. Hood heard the doubters and critics that said he’d no longer be effective, though he didn’t want to disclose details.
“They said I’d have no explosion,” Hood said with a grin. “Said I’d never be able to hold a double team down. I’m not going to say names, but people. We’ll say, ‘Them.’ And when they ask who, say, ‘They.’ They gave me a list of things I wouldn’t be able to do, [like] practice for long periods of time.”
For Hood, there’s pleasure in proving his doubters wrong and laboring through practices in the thick Richmond humidity. When the Redskins head back to Ashburn for practice Wednesday, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Hood will bring that same approach with him. He knows a lot can change in the three weeks until the roster is cut to 53 players on Sept. 3. Yet he has no intention of being anywhere else than the Redskins facility come Sept. 4.
“One thing I won’t do is doubt myself,” Hood said. “Only I know how far I’ll go. If I don’t reach expectations or what they want me to be, release me, do whatever, but I came here to work. Nobody wants to come and ride the bench.”