Could Steelers’ Devlin Hodges become the next Gardner Minshew?
They were born five weeks and about a four-hour drive apart in the South. Each stands 6-foot-1, set records playing in an “Air Raid” offense and was far from a coveted prospect in last spring’s NFL Draft.
And now, it appears Devlin Hodges is about to join Gardner Minshew as an NFL starting quarterback.
The two are linked in many ways.
Minshew has become something of a league phenomenon after starting four of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ five games; Hodges could be in line to start the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers.
“I’ve known him for a while. We met at the Manning passing academy,” Hodges said last week, before he came on to replace an injured Mason Rudolph to make his NFL debut during the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
“We had a good time together there, and we’ve talk a couple times since.”
From 2015-18, Hodges set the NCAA FCS career passing yardage record at Samford. Minshew transferred multiple times but led FBS in completions and was second in passing yards for Washington State in 2018.
Minshew’s coach there, Mike Leach, learned about passing offenses in the 1990s under “spread” offense pioneer Hal Mumme. From 1997-98, Leach was Mumme’s offensive coordinator at Kentucky along with a young graduate assistant named Chris Hatcher.
Hatcher went on to coach Hodges at Samford.
Minshew and Hodges last season were playing, essentially, the same offense in college. Each benefited greatly in amassing more than 9,000 combined passing yards. But there’s a school of thought that their association with the “Air Raid” offense hurt Minshew and Hodges come draft time — each was labeled a “system quarterback.”
In that sense, Hodges feels an even closer kinship with Minshew.
“You see a lot of these people talking about Air Raid offense (being easy to inflate statistics), this and that,” Hodges said, “but if you look at some of the quarterbacks who have been taken — (including) two in the first No. 1 pick the past two drafts — they were (also) kind of in that spread, not-pro style offense, no-huddle, throw the ball around.”
Hodges was referring to former Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield (No. 1 overall in 2018) and Kyler Murray (No. 1 overall, 2019), both of Oklahoma.
“I think it’s all about who can throw a football,” Hodges said of what makes a good quarterback. “I think if you can throw a football you can learn the plays, and when it comes down to it, it comes down to who’s got that ‘it’ factor at quarterback.”
Hodges has had that with the Steelers, the undrafted rookie earning the respect of teammates and coaches since making the team as a tryout at rookie camp in May.
“We just saw his confidence out there (Sunday),” Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds said. “He’s a third-string guy, and he went out there like he’s a first-string guy.”
Minshew, who was picked by the Jaguars in the sixth round, has the “it,” too — he’s clearly popular among the Jaguars and their fans, who have adopted his mustache as a team rallying cry. Minshew also has a 105.6 passer rating, 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 1,279 passing yards in 4-plus games.
Minshew was born and raised in Rankin County, Miss. Hodges was doing the same 250 miles northeast in Kimberly, Ala. Hodges stayed close to home for college at Samford, reneging on a verbal committment to FBS Southern Miss because he wanted a chance to play right away.
Minshew went from Troy to a junior college to East Carolina to Washington State before finding his glory as a starting quarterback — and now in the NFL.
Hodges appears on the cusp of doing the same. If Rudolph does not progress through NFL concussion protocol quickly, Hodges figures to start Sunday.
“We believe in ‘Duck’ for however long Mason needs to heal,” linebacker Bud Dupree said. “We are going to rally behind him and continue to move forward.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .