PITTSBURGH — Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges is nicknamed “Duck.”
An undrafted rookie, Hodges came to Pittsburgh just as well known for his prowess as a national champion duck caller as he did as a quarterback at little-known Samford.
That has quickly changed.
Hodges came to Pittsburgh as a rookie camp tryout in May. He could very well start the team’s Week 6 games against the Los Angeles Chargers, with the status of Mason Rudolph uncertain.
Hodges has handled the breakneck pace of his NFL ascension with a certain unflappable nature that might also be comparable to a certain waterfowl.
Hodges even made the comparison himself on social media.
— Devlin Hodges (@DevlinHodges10) October 8, 2019
He said after practice on Wednesday that the post was kind of a joke, but there is some truth to in that his behind-the-scenes preparation is what allows him to look and be comfortable when thrust into big moments like he was Sunday.
“When it comes to football, I always prepare like I’m going to be the guy,” Hodges said. “That’s why, when I was thrown out there, I wasn’t nervous. I was prepared and confident. I have a lot of belief in myself. The nerves are still there, I might just doing a better job of hiding them.
“Honestly, I tweeted it out kind of as a joke, being silly. It is kind of true. You’ve gotta be calm, cool, collected with what everyone sees. But there’s a lot of hard works that goes behind the scenes that no one sees.”
Hodges is confident in his abilities. An All-American at the FCS level, he’s had a ton of success as a collegiate quarterback and he hasn’t let his undrafted status change the way he thinks about his own game. He believes he can be a successful NFL quarterback.
“I never once didn’t think I could be here or would be here,” Hodges said. “It’s crazy, especially crazy being home Week 1, coming back on the practice squad … I felt like I’d been gone forever. With Ben going down and getting brought up and Mason getting a concussion this week, it’s just crazy. It’s a crazy process.”
The one pitfall of that crazy process is that Hodges got thrown into the fire against Baltimore and could be making his first start this Sunday without the kind of typical progression that a young, unheralded quarterback makes before assuming that role.
He didn’t even start a preseason game while still stuck behind Ben Roethlisberger, Rudolph and Josh Dobbs on the depth chart. He’s been on the sideline in uniform for a regular season game just three times and he’s thrown a grand total of nine NFL passes.
The job he’s aspiring to has one of the steepest learning curves around, so there will be adjustments to be made.
“Obviously, he lacks a lot of experience in the things that go with experience,” head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “But I like his demeanor. I like his steady-eddie attitude and approach to it. I think that is an asset to him and us in the present circumstance.”
Poll: What Was Biggest Issue with Steelers Running Game in 2020?
The Steelers finished dead last in the NFL in rushing in 2020 and general manager Kevin Colbert has seen it as a top offseason priority to rectify that standing going into 2021.
The Steelers have already made a change in coaching, with Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm taking over as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
There will also be substantive changes to the personnel, as starting center Maurkice Pouncey has retired and starting running back James Conner, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, left guard Matt Feiler and right tackle Zach Banner are pending free agents.
“You can’t say the runners weren’t good enough or the quarterbacks weren’t good enough or the line wasn’t good enough,” Colbert said in speaking with the media last week. “To put out the kind of running game we did, no one was good enough. And again, that is a collective effort. … We need to finish (seasons). And I think having a strong running game helps teams finish in that time of year.”
With that being said, Steelers fans, which area of the running game do you think was the biggest issue in 2020?
NFL Insider John Clayton: Steelers Out of Running for J.J. Watt
One of the league’s most prominent insiders believes the Steelers are out of the running for free agent defensive end J.J. Watt.
Joining The PM Team on 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday, NFL insider John Clayton said Watt will not be joining his brothers T.J. and Derek in Pittsburgh.
Clayton sees the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills as the favorites to land Watt’s services.
For a potential dark horse, Clayton says the Las Vegas Raiders as an outside-the-box candidate to sign the veteran pass rusher.
.@JohnClaytonNFL says JJ Watt won't be coming to Pittsburgh. Tennessee, Green Bay, and Buffalo are the 3 teams. Raiders as a dark horse.— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) February 24, 2021
Watt leaves Houston as one of the greatest players in franchise history. He was selected to five Pro Bowls, named First-Team All-Pro on five occasions and earned three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.
A future Hall of Famer, Watt is the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles-for-loss (172) and forced fumbles (25).
Watt recorded 52 total tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in 2020.
Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster Says He Wants to Retire in Pittsburgh
Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster reiterated that he wants to finish his career in Pittsburgh, even though that possibility seems remote.
Smith-Schuster, speaking with TMZ Sports in Los Angeles on Wednesday, that he’s not looking for a reason to return to the West Coast, and wants to remain with the Steelers.
“At the end of the day, I want to have my legacy in Pittsburgh and retire there,” he said. “I don’t want to leave. … I’m Pittsburgh for life.”
Smith-Schuster also said that he still feels that Ben Roethlisberger has enough in the tank to the take the team to a championship and that he feels he has a good relationship with the Steelers’ quarterback.
Roethlisberger’s situation remains up in the air as he and the team attempt to come to terms on a re-negotiated or extended contract to ameliorate some of his $41 million cap hit for the 2021 season.
Roethlisberger said he would like Smith-Schuster to return, but the 24-year-old free agent will likely be able to command a salary in the $15 million per year range, which seems to be out of the price range of the Steelers, who remain well over the salary cap with three weeks to go before the start of the new league year.