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.
Bill Cowher Reveals He and His Wife Recovered from COVID-19
Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and his wife Veronica have and recovered from COVID-19, the future Hall of Fame told Ed Bouchette of The Athletic.
While not diagnosed at the time, the couple experienced symptoms back in March following a trip to Hawaii, and tested positive for the virus antibodies in April.
According to Bouchette’s story, Cowher first knew something was wrong when he was unable to smell flowers he had purchased from a florist, and could not taste his wife’s cooking. Cowher also said he experienced shaky joints and a fever, while Veronica had a cough.
Cowher also shared his thoughts on the NFL season going forward, and if he thinks the league will be able to start up without a hitch. He seems skeptical.
“I don’t know,” Cowher said via Pro Football Talk. “No. 1, the players have to feel comfortable with whatever they come up with from a testing standpoint, from a protocol standpoint. I totally understand the reluctance. Even though they say young people aren’t getting it, you also have people who have asthma, people who have underlying conditions in their families — they’re going back to their homes with parents who may now be elderly. It’s not like you can isolate yourself from everybody, particularly during a season that’s five months long. . . . I still think we have a long way to go.”
Cowher added that players needed to be respected with regard to how they choose to handle the virus personally, including if they decided to skip the 2020 season entirely.
“It’s going to come down to the league and the NFLPA feeling comfortable moving forward, and even within that, if they come up with a set of guidelines, and now a player who doesn’t feel comfortable, he may not want to be part of it. It affects people differently not only from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint. . . . I think we have to respect that.”
A Super Bowl champion in 2005, Cowher spent his entire 15-year head coaching career with the Steelers. His 149 wins are top-20 in NFL history.
Cowher has worked as an analyst for The NFL Today on CBS since 2007.
The legendary coach was supposed to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August, but the ceremony and festivities were moved to the summer of 2021 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Lawrence Timmons Donating $500,000 to High School Alma Mater
Former Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons is giving back to the next generation of football players at his high school alma mater.
Timmons donated $500,000 to Wilson High School in Florence, South Carolina to remodel their stadium. The renovation process is expected to get underway in September.
“All of these upgraded facilities, around the school and athletic complex, give students a renewed pride in their school. I’m glad to play a part in that,” Timmons told Clint Buckley of 247 Sports.
The renovation plan for Tiger Stadium includes a new track, additional seating and an updated, brick entrance to the complex.
“I am very appreciative of Mr. Timmons’ contribution,” said Eric Robinson, Wilson’s principal. “This just goes to show that he remembers where he came from and that he will always be a Tiger. I am excited to see what everything looks like when it is done. Our students and our alumni deserve the best. I think this will motivate them to be even better on the field.”
A 2003 graduate of Wilson, Timmons played linebacker and tight end, posting 150 tackles and two sacks along with 47 receptions for 800 yards and five touchdowns as a senior.
Trading Florence for Tallahassee, he earned All-ACC honors behind 79 tackles and 18 tackles-for-loss in his final season with the Florida State Seminoles.
Timmons was selected 15th-overall by the Steelers in the 2007 NFL Draft. He spent ten seasons in Pittsburgh, earning both a Pro Bowl appearance and Second-Team All-Pro during his stellar 2014 season. He won Super Bowl XLIII with the Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.
Timmons recorded 983 tackles, 35.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles and 12 interceptions over his Steeler career.
Timmons has been out of the NFL since being released after a single season with the Miami Dolphins in 2018.
Still, it is great to see Timmons staying close to the game by giving back to the place that gave him his football start.
T.J. Watt Named Top Edge Rusher in NFL by CBS Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has been named the NFL’s top edge rusher by Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.
One of the most loaded position groups in the NFL, Watt beat out some elite talents to claim the top spot, including the Browns’ Myles Garrett, the Saints’ Cameron Jordan and the Bears’ Khalil Mack.
Top 10 Edge Rushers in the NFL— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) June 24, 2020
(According to @ryanwilsonCBS)
1. T.J. Watt
2. Myles Garrett
3. Chandler Jones
4. Cameron Jordan
5. Joey Bosa
6. Shaquil Barrett
7. Danielle Hunter
8. Za'Darius Smith
9. Khalil Mack
10. Nick Bosa pic.twitter.com/TGd621tshy
Watt was a force to be reckoned with in his third season out of Wisconsin, earning First-Team All-Pro honors and finishing third in NFL Defensive Player of the Year Voting.
No. 90 had 14.5 sacks and 14 tackles-for-loss in 2019, while intercepting two passes and forcing a league-leading eight fumbles.
Watt’s production last season helped the Steelers defense turn into one of the NFL’s best, finishing the year ranked first in sacks (54) and turnovers (38). Neither Watt or his supporting cast show any signs of slowing down in 2020z
The next challenge for Watt and the Steelers is finding a way to come to a long-term contract extension, keeping the stud edge rusher in Pittsburgh for years to come.