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.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/24/20
While it’s odd to see referees standing out in a clip of highlights, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s plan to incorporate actual refs into practice this week happened on Thursday.
Tomlin explained he is adding refs to practice to ensure his team is more disciplined, which hopefully leads to less penalties in their game this week compared to last week.
Wide receivers James Washington, Diontae Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron run routes and catch passes in this clip.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger Says Form, Mechanics Can Be Better Despite Hot Start
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.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/23/20
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