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Devlin Hodges Rewards Steelers’ Trust with Comeback Win

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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.

Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger Says Form, Mechanics Can Be Better Despite Hot Start

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To hear Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tell it, he can better than what he’s shown on the field in his first two weeks since returning from elbow surgery.

He’s not happy with his footwork, he thinks he’s dropping his arm a bit and needs a more consistent release point.

The statistics, however tell another story. They say Roethlisberger has been operating at a higher level of precision than ever before. So which is it? Maybe both.

“I do feel I got a little lazy with my feet, which then, in turn, translated to a lazy arm,” Roethlisberger said. “There were some throws that I kind of dropped my elbow, if you will. I don’t want to get too technical, but it became more of a three-quarter release instead of an over the top when I didn’t need to. There are obviously times you have to change your release point. There were too many throws, I felt looking back, that I just have to get my feet working better, and that will then translate, hopefully, to the rest of the body. Then, I won’t be guiding some of the throws.”

Here’s an example from the game Roethlisberger’s form getting a little sloppy. He throws this ball flat-footed and almost all with his right side, getting less power behind it than usual and resulting in a pass that ends up behind JuJu Smith-Shuster instead of allowing him to build a head of steam toward the defenders at the line of scrimmage.

Is this a big deal here? Not really. Smith-Schuster probably couldn’t have done much better than he did at bulling over the defender, anyway. But this is also a route into the flat on the near side of the field. Over longer distances, that can make a big difference.

“I’ve gotten away with it in the past being able to not necessarily be perfect from the ground up and just letting my arm kind of make up for a lot of things, a lot of imperfections if you talk to quarterback people,” Roethlisberger said. “I feel great. I just need to get it in my mind that I can still make the throws when I’m not in the perfect position to make them.”

All of that can be true, and yet, it’s hard to argue with the results. Through two games, Roethlisberger has a 68.5 completion percentage. His career season high was 68% in 2015. In a game and a half last year, it was 56.5%.

His passer rating, even with an interception against the Broncos, is 107.1. His career season-long high came in 2o07, when he finished with a 104.1 mark. Last season before his injury, it was 66.

Some of that can be explained by a passing scheme that has take fewer deep shots down the field than it has in years past. His yards per pass attempt sits at 7.4, lower than all but four of his other 16 seasons.

Mechanical inconsistency can certainly have a greater impact on longer throws, so the Steelers’ somewhat more methodical offensive approach could be helping Roethlisberger get into the swing of things.

“Maybe some of that just comes from not playing a lot of football,” he posited. “I played two games this year. I played a game and a half last year, so really, it’s about three and a half games in two years if you think about it. It’ll come. Like I said, if I’m having these issues and we are still winning football games, that’s a plus.”

If a 2-0 record with career highs in passer rating and completion percentage is what he looks like with mechanical issues, the NFL should be very worried about what might happen if he gets into a groove.

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Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/23/20

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David DeCastro practices with the Steelers after missing the first two games of the season. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained to the media, including Mike Asti and Alan Saunders of Steelers Now, that he is evaluating DeCastro and he could start their week 3 game against Houston.

Joe Haden can also seen working on one-on-one coverage drills with the rest of the secondary.

Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers

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T.J. Watt Named AFC Defensive Player of the Week

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Leading up to his big matchup vs. his brother J.J and the Houston Texans, T.J. Watt was honored for his performance last Sunday.

Watt was recognized Wednesday morning as the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort against the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field. This was the third time in his career that Watt has won this award.

During the Steelers 26-21 win over the Broncos, Watt registered 2.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and four tackles.

Watt continues to be one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL. Counting his performance on Sunday, Watt now has collected 37 career sacks, which is the most by any NFL linebacker since 2017. Here’s another interesting stat courtesy the Pittsburgh Steelers media relations department: Watt has 25 sacks in 25 career games at Heinz Field. Only three players in NFL history have registered more sacks over their first 25 career home games.

Watt and the rest of the Steelers defense will be challenged this Sunday as they host Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans at Heinz Field. Their 2-0 start has the Steelers tied with the Baltimore Ravens for 1st place in the AFC North.

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