PITTSBURGH — The Steelers believe in Devlin Hodges.
That’s a pretty incredible thing to say for a guy that arrived at the team’s rookie minicamp five months ago without a job.
But Hodges impressed enough during the team’s rookie minicamp to earn a spot on the 90-man roster. Then he impressed enough during training camp to earn a chance in the preseason games.
He completed seven of nine passes for 68 yards and though he didn’t make the 53-man roster, the Steelers called him back two weeks later to join the practice squad.
When Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season to an elbow injury, the Steelers had enough faith in Hodges that he was promoted to the active roster as the sole backup to Mason Rudolph.
Finally, when Rudolph was injured in Sunday’s critical divisional game against the Ravens, Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner didn’t hold back in throwing the 23-year-old Samford alum to the wolves in his first NFL appearance.
Hodges responded to their faith, driving a pair of late scoring drives that kept the Steelers in the hunt. His stat line isn’t necessarily what you’d call impressive: 7 of 9 for 68 yards and two scrambles for 20.
But the fact that the Steelers had the faith in him to do it at all says a lot.
“He’s a baller,” veteran guard David DeCastro said. “He set a lot of records at the 1-AA level. He doesn’t have a choice now.”
“I thought he played great,” said running back James Conner. “I thought he showed confidence. … He’s here for a reason. He’s on our 53-man for a reason. He’s active. I believe in him. The whole team believes in him.”
Perhaps most importantly, head coach Mike Tomlin heaped praise on his inexperienced signal-caller, just before sharply reminding a reporter that he doesn’t believe in moral victories.
“I thought he represented himself well,” Tomlin said. “I thought he gave us a chance. You have to tip your hat to him. You are talking about a guy that didn’t make our opening 53 and all those things, we know his story. You also have to acknowledge that he has done some good things at every step along the way through the team development process when given the opportunity and that is why he is in the position he is in.
“That is probably why he made the positive showing in spots that he did.”
Rudolph’s status for this Sunday’s game at Los Angeles in unknown, so if “Duck” is once again under center, the Steelers will know that he’s earned the right to be there and earned their trust to keep the team in the hunt.
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.
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.”
Highlights from Vance McDonald at Steelers Practice 11/24/20
Tight end Vance McDonald returns to practice after being activated earlier in the day. McDonald can be seen working on his conditioning. TJ Watt also looks to stay in shape and work on drills during what currently remains a short week with a game on Thursday night against Baltimore.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers