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Duck Season: Devlin Hodges to Start at QB for Steelers vs. Chargers

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Devlin Hodges will make his first NFL start this Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football, as the team has ruled Mason Rudolph out for this week’s game with a concussion.

Hodges, 23, will be the third quarterback to start a game this season for the Steelers.

Starter Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season with an elbow injury suffered in Week 2 and backup Mason Rudolph suffered a concussion in the Steelers’ Week 5 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and remains in the league’s concussion protocol.

Hodges filled in for Rudolph in the second half of Sunday’s game, completing 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards. He directed a pair of second-half scoring drives as the Steelers attempted to come back from an early hole, only to see the Steelers lose the game in overtime after a JuJu Smith-Schuster fumble.

He took all of the first-team reps in practice this week, as Rudolph was a limited participant. It’s been a long journey from a player that came to Pittsburgh as a rookie camp tryout, but Hodges has earned the respect of his coaches and fellow players.

“He’s had a foundation,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said on Thursday. “He’s been with us the whole time. He spent the first week of the season not on the roster, but he’s been with us all through spring, all through fall camp. Devlin is a guy, like I said, a lot like Mason. He loves the game. It’s hard to kick him out of the building. He keeps his ears open and his mouth shut. I think that’s pretty good for a young quarterback in an ability to learn.”

An FCS All-American at Samford, Hodges had plenty of success at the collegiate level. Nicknamed “Duck” for his proficiency at duck calling — he’s won a national championship — the quarterback has shown a calm and poise beyond his experience level so far in the NFL.

Now, Duck will be thrown into the water. Time to sink or swim.

Steelers

Zach Banner Announces Self-imposed Social Media Ban Until he Signs New Deal

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Zach Banner is sending a clear message about his priorities ahead of the 2021 NFL season. Banner, who is a free agent and looking for a new deal with the Steelers, tweeted that he is going to stay off social media until he officially signs on the dotted line.

Zach Banner has become a prominent member of the Steelers, but that’s not because he’s had success on the field over the past year. Banner’s success has come off the field by connecting with fans on social media and doing his part to help those in need than he has on a football field. But by no means is that Banner’s fault. He suffered a season ending torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2020 season. This injury was especially devastating for the USC product because it occurred on the heels of Banner winning the starting right tackle position following a tough training camp battle with Chukwuma Okorafor.

Due to Banner’s injury, it was Okorafor who ended up starting 16 games, including the postseason. While Banner kept in good spirits and became his team’s loudest cheerleader on Twitter during games, it was clear he wanted to be on the field and contributing.

Earning a starting spot as a member of the Steelers offensive line was a major career achievement for Banner, but it was one he didn’t get to enjoy. Banner now hopes to return to Pittsburgh and be the missing piece the Steelers offensive line desperately needs.

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Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp

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There is plenty that remains up in the air about the 2021 NFL offseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to resume one of their enduring traditions that was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The Steelers were forced to forgo their trip to the campus of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2020 due to the NFL’s rules regarding keeping players isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s unclear how much those restrictions will change for the NFL teams this summer, but as things stand as of today, the Steelers are still making plans to return to the Laurel Highlands for the team’s annual training camp this summer.

“As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe,” team president Art Rooney II said to Steelers.com on Friday. “We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be able to happen. We’re still hopeful we’re going to have some form of offseason program, and it’s probably not going to start on time but I think it’s important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop.”

Displaced from their usual bucolic summer home and from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side due to capacity limitations, the Steelers spent the 2020 training camp and preseason at Heinz Field.

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NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North

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It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both Roethlisberger’s agent and team president Art Rooney II making public statements that each party desires a return for 2021 this week.

But how much of a difference-maker will Roethlisberger be? That depends on his level of play this coming season.

NFL Network analysts and former NFL players Willie McGinest and LaDainian Tomlinson each ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North and both said they think Roethlisberger is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.

“I’m not taking anything away from Ben,” McGinest said. “Lamar Jackson is special and I put Baker in front of Ben because of what we’ve seen in the progression of Baker the last couple of years. … I see him getting better and Ben fighting father time, with the skills diminishing just a little bit.”

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tomlinson said. “We’ve seen, in spurts, Big Ben play well. He started out hot. But he didn’t finish so well. … He looked old and beat up toward the end of the season. I’m just not sure that improves.”

Statistically, Roethlisberger finished first amongst the four AFC North passers in completion percentage, but he was fourth in yards per attempt and third in passer rating and QBR. Pro Football Focus ranked Roethlisberger last of the division’s four starters in 2020.

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