Kevin Gorman: It’s Duck Season for Steelers, who have confidence in Devlin Hodges
Once Devlin Hodges got rolling, he talked about how he loves everything about football and playing his position and is embracing everything about his nickname.
The third quarterback to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, a champion duck caller affectionately known as Duck, even shared on social media a meme showing a swimming mallard with the caption: Always behave like a duck. Keep calm and unruffled on the surface but paddle like hell underwater.
It’s not just about fun with the puns.
“I tweeted it out as a joke but it is true,” Hodges said with a smile on Wednesday at his locker. “You have to be calm, cool and collected with what everyone sees, but there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes that no one sees.”
Hodges has been paddling like hell since he signed after a tryout, taking the most unlikely route to a Week 5 starting role of any NFL quarterback. It’s a story almost too good to be true.
Hodges didn’t make the final roster cut, was signed to the practice squad when Josh Dobbs was traded to Jacksonville, elevated to backup when Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season to elbow surgery and made his regular-season debut when Mason Rudolph was knocked out with a concussion.
“I tell everyone that I think it kind of fits who I am,” Hodges said. “I never once didn’t think I wouldn’t be here or couldn’t be here.”
Now, it’s officially Duck Season for the Steelers.
After losing three games by a combined nine points, the Steelers desperately need a victory. Most of all, they need to find some stability at the game’s most important position. They lead the NFL in takeaways but struggle to convert them to touchdowns.
Hodges is comfortable stepping into the spotlight. As the media horde encircled his locker stall, nearby teammates joked that Hodges would stroll in confidently like he owned the room.
And then Hodges did just that.
If Hodges plays the part of the undersized quarterback from the small school to perfection, it’s because this is his encore. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder from Samford broke Steve McNair’s FCS record for career passing yards (14,584) and also finished as its all-time leader in completions and attempts.
Not that Hodges bothers to bring it up.
“It’s not the first thing I say when I meet somebody,” he said.
That’s a sign of his confidence, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by teammates or opponents after Hodges completed 7 of 9 for 68 yards in relief of Rudolph in the second half of a 26-23 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
Anthony Lynn saw only that second-half snapshot of Hodges but the Los Angeles Chargers coach was impressed enough to say, “He looks like a good football player.”
Lynn’s research proved his point, as he rattled off Hodges’ passing numbers in games against Power 5 programs Florida State (39 of 60 for 475 yards and two touchdowns) and Mississippi State (42 of 69 for 468 yards and four touchdowns).
“It just seems like being at a small school, every time he had a chance to play on a big stage, he showed up,” Lynn said. “Just watching him last week when he came into the game, he was very prepared. It was pretty obvious. They went straight down the field and scored.”
It’s worth a reminder Hodges is still a rookie who appears to be on the cusp of making his first NFL start, though the Steelers have yet to name a starting quarterback for Sunday.
But Hodges made a strong impression on the Steelers with his pluck, poise and preparation. That he started 44 career games in college shows. That he’s an undrafted free agent from an FCS program doesn’t. Not on the surface, at least.
“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 just had a lot of belief in myself. The nerves are still there. I might just do a better job of hiding it.”
His Steelers teammates talked about how Hodges proved he belonged in the NFL from the start — center Maurkice Pouncey called him the star of training camp — and immediately took command of the huddle when Rudolph was knocked out, despite not getting many snaps in practice last week.
“Duck’s got a lot of confidence,” said Steelers receiver Johnny Holton, who worked with Hodges on the scout team. “He knows he’s supposed to be in the NFL so he keeps working his tail off.
“Even when he got released, I told him, ‘Be ready. Someone will end up calling you.’ He looks at it like, he went to a small school so it’s harder to get drafted but he got his foot in the door — and I’m pretty sure he ain’t getting out this door.”
What started as a joke has come true.
The Steelers are counting on a Duck to change their luck.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .