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Devlin Hodges Rewards Steelers’ Trust with Comeback Win



CINCINNATI — In May, just after the 2019 NFL Draft the Steelers invited rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges to their minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Pittsburgh’s South Side.

Hodges was one of three quarterbacks invited to the three-day camp, and everyone knew that only one would get a job coming out of it. 

The 6-foot-1 Hodges was matched up against 6-foot-5 Tennessee grad Keller Chryst and 6-foot-3 Eastern Michigan alum Brogran Roback. Hodges came to the Steelers from Samford, an FCS school in north-central Alabama.

He looked like a member of the junior varsity. One reporter and sometimes photographer — this reporter and sometimes photographer — lamented a missed opportunity at getting an action photo.

When asked why by a colleague, I responded, “for the story when he gets cut.”

Until he started to throw. Hodges’ arm strength, accuracy and wherewithal in the pocket outshined his lack of size and resume, and he won the Steelers’ fourth quarterback job. That meant he got to stay through summer OTAs and fall training camp.

But it’s far from a guarantee of more than that. With a future Hall of Famer at the helm and two drafted backups ahead of it, it was far from a guarantee that Hodges would develop into more than an afterthought in his Steelers career.

After all, former fourth quarterbacks Bart Houston (2017), Dustin Vaughan (2016), Tajh Boyd (2015) and John Parker Wilson (2014) haven’t exactly remained a large part of the conversation around the team.

But there was something different about Hodges, and it wasn’t just his history as a national champion duck-caller and the nickname that came with it. When he got chances to show what he could do on the field, he turned heads.

In the Steelers’ first preseason game, he completed 8 of 14 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. He threw another TD pass in the second game and was given significant playing time in the team’s preseason finale.

Hodges did not make the team’s 53-man roster out of training camp, but he impressed enough that the Steelers started shopping backup Josh Dobbs. They found a suitor in the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 9 and Hodges was back with the team, set up to be the scout-team quarterback and spend the year on the practice squad.

Six days later, Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season with an elbow injury. Hodges was promoted to the active roster. He played in two games when Mason Rudolph suffered a concussion, winning his only start at the Los Angeles Chargers.

So with Rudolph struggling on Sunday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin sat him down and went to his bench, inserting the 23-year-old undrafted rookie with 40 NFL passes to his name with the Steelers trailing on the road in a must-win game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

It’s an idea that’s not as crazy as it sounds. Cleary, as it worked, with Hodges tossing a 79-yard touchdown in the Steelers’ 16-10 comeback win.

But it’s still notable that Tomlin was willing to put a significant portion of his team’s future in the hands of the youngster, a responsibility that was not lost on Hodges.

“It feels great to know the coaches aren’t afraid to call on me,” Hodges said to Steelers Now. “Every time they’ve called on me, I’ve provided, and Coach Tomlin always says, ‘If I ever ring, if I ever dial … answer.’

“That’s something he says to everybody. It’s all just about being a team. Everyone that’s wearing a helmet, each and every week, has to be prepared to do their job.”

It was one game, and one win, albeit an important one. Tomlin hasn’t made public his plans for who will start next week.

The Steelers’ effort on Sunday, while good enough to moved the hapless Bengals to 0-11, probably wouldn’t have beaten any other NFL team. Rudolph or Hodges, whoever runs the offense will need to be better.

But in the meantime, Tomlin’s words about needed them all ring true, and not just all 53 men on the active roster, but the practice squad, the 90 men in training camp, and even the undersized quarterback brought into rookie camp on a tryout.


Ryan Shazier Starts Foundation for Spinal Cord Injuries



Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has started a foundation to help individuals with spinal cord injuries.

The Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation will “provide support, resources and funding to those with spinal cord injuries and their caregivers.”

“My team and I have been working behind the scenes to find ways to continue to push forward progress for the spinal cord community,” Shazier said on Twitter Tuesday. “One step at a time we will change how people view spinal injuries.”

Shazier’s promising NFL career ended prematurely three years ago when he suffered his own spinal injury against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017. He officially announced his retirement from football earlier this year, but has made tremendous strides in his recovery.

Selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Shazier finished his career with 299 total tackles, 24 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, seven forced fumbles and seven interceptions. He was twice selected to the Pro Bowl.

Former Steelers coaches and teammates shared their congratulations to Shazier on the start of his non-profit Tuesday, including head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

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Steelers Can Become First to Clinch a Playoff Berth This Week



The Steelers can become the first NFL team to clinch a playoff berth for the 2020 season on Thursday, if they’re able to beat the Baltimore Ravens and get a little bit of help.

If the Steelers beat Baltimore at Heinz Field on Thursday night to improve to 11-0 on the season, and both the Las Vegas Raiders and Miami Dolphins lose, or one loses and one ties, the Steelers will have wrapped up a 2020 NFL postseason berth.

Though the Steelers are playing on Thanksgiving night, they will have to wait until the weekend to find out if they’ve earned their playoff berth. The Raiders will visit the Atlanta Falcons this week and the Dolphins will play at the New York Jets. Both of those games are scheduled for 1 p.m. kickoffs on Sunday.

The 10-0 Steelers are in first place in the AFC North, three games ahead of the 7-3 Cleveland Browns, so they can’t yet clinch a division title at this point, just a Wild Card berth.

The earliest the Steelers could clinch a divisional title will come in Week 14.

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Chase Claypool’s Physical Dominance Going Beyond Catches, Yards and Scores



Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool is big, that much is easy enough to tell by looking at him.

At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, he’s one of the physically largest receivers in the NFL, even as a rookie. He’s also fast, as he proved at the NFL and has proven over and over again throughout his rookie season, as he’s raced out to 35 catches for 500 yards and eight touchdowns over his first 10 games.

Big and fast is a pretty good combination for a wide receiver and it’s made Claypool quite a handful for opposing cornerbacks, despite his lack of experience in the league.

When corners are given a tasks that might be a bit more than they’re capable of handling physically, their first instinct might be to grab a handful of jersey.

Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Claypool was twice a victim of defensive pass interference penalties, once for 29 yards and another for 21 that can essentially be added  to the 51 in receiving that he brought in.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after the game that he’ll take those penalty flags and the automatic first downs that come with them, but he also wants the physically dominant Claypool to run through those fouls and find some touchdowns.

“He says that after every PI,” Claypool said on Monday. “It definitely makes sense and definitely, it’s something that I’m trying to work on, just getting through some some of those PI calls, but some of them, as you could see from yesterday’s game, you just can’t fight through and tackle sometimes. I’m happy to know that he can throw it up and it’s either a catch or a PI.”

While Claypool’s adjustment to the NFL has seemingly been an easy one, there’s a fine line to walk for a rookie when it comes to earning those calls. If Claypool doesn’t sell it at all in all-out attempt to catch the ball, he might not get either the pass or the flag. But he’s not at a point in his career where he can demand a call be made, either.

“I definitely watch some of these games and you know, I see these guys get like PI’d and if the flag, doesn’t come out … no specific receiver, but like a Pro Bowl receiver and they just like throw their hands up, they can get a call right there,” Claypool explained. “So I’m gonna try that. Probably not this year but maybe down the road there a little bit.”

That day might come sooner than he thinks if he continues the torrid pace he’s set so far. Claypool is the first rookie wide receiver since the NFL-AFL merger to score 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games, a level of success that has surprised even him.

“This much, for sure,” Claypool said. “You never really are able to picture something like this. But I expected to have success in my career just based off like training and kind of how I felt about myself and my preparation. But definitely thought the transition would have been a little bit longer.”

In that aspect, the one thing that maybe has been less surprising has been his ability to draw penalties. After all, that’s mostly about size and speed, and it was clear even before he entered the league that he had a rare combination in those areas.

“Just watching game film and, and looking at corners in the league and their measurables, I knew I was gonna measure up physically,” he said. “If there’s a corner bigger than me, then damn.”

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