In a week, Devlin Hodges goes from no reps to first-team Steelers quarterback
Based on his activity — of lack thereof — the previous week, Devlin Hodges was happy to throw a pass of any kind in a full practice setting Wednesday, let alone take all the snaps with the Pittsburgh Steelers first-team offense.
With the Steelers preparing to face the Baltimore Ravens last week, Hodges was mostly a bystander during practice while mobile quarterback Taryn Christion, added to the practice squad for that game, worked with the scout team.
Hodges’ work was confined to some throws in 7-on-7 situations in which he didn’t face a pass rush.
“Honestly, I got no reps with the team, with the ones,” Hodges said. “I didn’t even get any reps on the scout team because we brought in a guy to be Lamar Jackson.”
This week, with Mason Rudolph’s availability uncertain because of a concussion, Hodges opened as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. Rudolph practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, but if he isn’t cleared to play, the undrafted free agent from Division I FCS Samford, who wasn’t on the team’s opening roster, could make his first NFL start Sunday night at the Los Angeles Chargers.
What a week, huh?
“Having a chance to prepare with the ones and being in the huddle, it’s confidence,” Hodges said. “I’m comfortable being in the huddle with a group of guys and potentially being in there Sunday. … It helps a lot..”
Cut at the end of preseason, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hodges was added to the practice squad the day after the Steelers’ season-opening loss at New England when Joshua Dobbs was traded to Jacksonville. A week later, he was promoted to the 53-man roster when Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury.
Against the Ravens, Hodges went from backup quarterback to unlikely contributor after Rudolph suffered a concussion in the third quarter that knocked him from the game. Hodges completed 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards and led the Steelers on a touchdown drive and field goal drive on his four possessions. Both scores gave the Steelers the lead.
“It’s hard to explain, he’s really composed, but he’s really relaxed at the same time,” guard David DeCastro said. “It’s kind of like playing backyard football. He’s got a lot of confidence in his voice, which is great.”
The transition, so far, has been a seamless one for Hodges.
“He doesn’t blink in the face of adversity,” linebacker T.J. Watt said. “He just kind of steps up, shrugs his shoulders, goes out there and does what he does. I don’t think the moment is too big for him.”
As a starting outside linebacker, Watt usually has the perspective of facing Hodges in practice as part of the quarterback’s responsibilities running the scout team. As such, Hodges is tasked with replicating the opposing quarterback at the expense of throwing his favorite passes.
“He’s been delivering really good footballs and making this defense a lot better,” Watt said. “A lot of credit goes to the scout team for helping us throughout the week, and he was the catalyst of that scout team. You can see the carryover when he got into the game. He’s not just here to be a scout-team player.”
Hodges made his mark in rookie tryout camp, which was held two weeks after he went unselected in the NFL Draft. He made enough of an impression for the Steelers to sign him and boot fourth quarterback Brogan Roback off the 90-man offseason roster.
Hodges continued to impress in training camp and got more work than a typical No. 4 quarterback in the preseason. He completed 20 of 38 passes for 190 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“It was awesome to see. He was the star of camp,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “All the guys thought he was going to make it here, with the plays he was making in camp and practice. When he got into games, he did really, really well.”
Still, Hodges couldn’t force his way onto the roster and had to wait until Dobbs was traded before getting a callback from the Steelers. Now, he’s a few days away from perhaps playing a starring role on NBC’s “Football Night in America” telecast.
“It’s a crazy process,” Hodges said. “Just from the beginning and coming in with the tryout. Five years from now or 10 years, if I’m still playing in the NFL, this whole story will fit who I am. It just shows that with hard work and confidence and a belief in yourself, you can accomplish your dreams.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .