It may not have been a decision made in the interests of the longterm future of the Pittsburgh Steelers in mind, but Sunday’s rematch with the Cleveland Browns will mark the second start of Devlin Hodges’ NFL career.
Then again, if Hodges has been deemed as the signal caller who gives the Steelers the best chance to win Sunday’s game as they battle for a playoff spot in a wide-open AFC race, his future may align with the franchise’s future in a post-Ben Roethlisberger world.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on the undrafted quarterback from Sanford, but the 23-year-old affectionately known as “Duck” thanks to a duck-calling championship won in his youth isn’t the type to sweat such things.
An attitude of playing on house money extends itself to an extra layer of coolness in tight situations.
“I think a lot of it is I don’t have anything to lose,” Hodges said.
“I was undrafted. That is something I have always been. I have always been calm, cool, collected. I think a lot of that comes from getting prepared and being prepared. When you got some guys around me that are as good as they are and can block up front and make the catches and run the ball, it makes my job a lot easier.”
It was Hodges who came in relief of an ineffective Mason Rudolph a week ago as the Steelers offense spit and sputtered its way to a 16-10 win over the winless Bengals. His 79-yard touchdown toss to James Washington led to Pittsburgh’s only trip to the end zone as they overcame a narrow Bengals lead.
With Rudolph’s struggles in a loss to Cleveland on Nov. 14 – a night where he threw four interceptions – and in Week 12 against Cincinnati where he was 8 of 16 for 85 yards and a pick before getting the hook.
While Pittsburgh didn’t set the world ablaze once Hodges was in, he did pass for 115 yards as Benny Snell picked up crucial yardage and first downs late.
The offense just felt calmer with Hodges at the helm. Could it be that Hodges is a calming influence in a huddle with all sorts of unplanned personnel handling key tasks?
“I think so. You will have to ask them,” Hodges said. “They might tell you more than I know, but I feel like that. I know that they have seen me win a game and I know that they know that I can get the job done. I know you have talked to some of the defense guys that I compete against each and every day in scout team and now going against them in a couple of the periods each week. They know I can get the job done and I know I can and just ready to go do it.”
That at-ease personality hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Well, he plays with a lot of confidence for sure,” Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said.
“You wouldn’t be able to tell he’s from a small school. It’s not like playing against big schools when he was at the small school. I think he plays with a sense of ease. I think he plays with a sense of rhythm. He’s been good when we asked him to be for us.”
Fichtner also was prompt to cite Hodges’ career history as a positive in the quarterback’s development.
“I don’t know, maybe it’s because he has been overlooked and he feels like he’s the underdog, and what does he have to lose?” Fichtner said. “I don’t know. You’d have to ask ‘Duck’ that, I think. I tend to believe that we should all feel like that in our own way. It’s not a right to be here. It’s a privilege and an honor and you’ve got to respect that process. I think if everyone addressed it like that in general, I think you’d always have that same feeling.”
While popular sentiment seems to side with Hodges, and his fledgling cult-hero status amongst fans, his coach didn’t seem too committal on the topic of keeping the rookie under center as the Steelers push through the remainder of this season.
“We’re putting pieces together on a week-by-week basis because of the adversity that the game presents,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “With players being available to us or not available to us, and so we’re singly focused on winning this game or putting ourselves in position to win this game.”
And what expectations are there for Hodges on Sunday?
“There’s going to be enough pressure on Devlin just performing, so I’m not going to add to it by talking expectations,” Tomlin said. “I expect him to not kill us.”