NCAA’s Division I passing leader last year, Devlin Hodges looks to impress Steelers | TribLIVE.com
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Chris Adamski

He’s one of the longest shots among the 91 men on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training-camp roster to still be standing with the team by the start of the regular season. But Devlin Hodges has 14,584 reasons why he believes he can make the Steelers.

“As far as me feeling like I should be here, I definitely feel like it,” Hodges said from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex earlier this month. “I have got that confidence.

“If you ask me, I think I should be No. 1 pick. I feel like everyone, if they are confident in themselves, that’s what they should think. I am a confident player; I know I have a lot of to learn. But I am excited to come out and … take each opportunity I have to show the coaches that I can play at this level.”

Perhaps if the NFL draft went solely by statistics, Hodges would indeed have been the No. 1 pick. The 2018 NCAA Division I leader in passing yards per game (389.4), Hodges wasn’t drafted, though. Worse, he wasn’t even signed as an undrafted free agent. Instead, the reigning Walter Payton Award winner as the top offensive player in D-I FCS had to settle for a tryout with the Steelers at the rookie minicamp.

Hodges impressed enough that May weekend that the Steelers signed him. That gave him four weeks of practicing with established NFL veterans at organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. And for a Samford University alum who stands only 6-foot-1, Hodges didn’t look out of place during his reps on the NFL practice field.

“Obviously, there is going to be more speed; you are playing with the best of the best out here,” Hodges said. “I felt like I have been adjusting well, though. I am enjoying it every day out here, every opportunity I get and it’s exciting to be in an NFL locker room.”

Hodges’ size is his biggest impediment to impressing NFL personnel types. His arm isn’t considered strong by NFL standards, either. But his college stats are truly awesome: 14,584 career passing yards (breaking Steve McNair’s 24-year-old FCS record), including 4,283 in only 11 games last season.

Hodges attempted 550 passes, an average of exactly 50 per game.

“It was no-huddle, run-and-gun,” said Hodges, an Alabama native. “So, definitely coming here and doing (different things is a learning experience), just little things as far as calling a play in the huddle, as simple as that.”

Five years ago, Hodges turned down approximately 10 scholarship offers from FBS programs to attend Samford, where he could play immediately — and where, of course, he would be given an opportunity to throw the ball. A lot.

He would become a four-year starter and a three-year Southern Conference offensive player of the year honoree.

“Devlin, he was such a great college quarterback,” said Steelers rookie punter Ian Berryman, who went to SoCon rival Western Carolina. “He shredded us for four years.”

As the proverbial “fourth arm” for the Steelers over the summer and at training camp, Hodges’ opportunities for reps won’t be plentiful. If previous camps are any indication, he might get a series here or there except when Ben Roethlisberger takes his regular days off, or in case of injury to Roethlisberger, Josh Dobbs or Mason Rudolph.

But Hodges will likely, at worst, have the chance to show himself on film in preseason games. And he’s already beat the odds by making the 90-man roster as a tryout, beating out Brogan Roback for the No. 4 gig heading into camp.

So, who knows?

“I still catch myself looking around and kind of being a little fan sometimes,” Hodges said. “’That’s really Ben,’ or, ‘That’s really JuJu,’ and stuff like that. … It’s exciting to be in the locker room; there’s a lot of great players on this team, a lot of great guys.

“But I am here with an opportunity, and I have a job, I have a role. I have got to challenge myself to stay locked in. … That’s why I am getting in throws after practice, because I have to make sure when my number is called I am ready for whatever I’m asked to do.”

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