“Let’s go, ‘Duck Dynasty,’ ” coach Mike Tomlin yelled toward his offense on the sidelines before the final drill of Tuesday’s Pittsburgh Steelers practice.
So Devlin Hodges ran into the huddle and took over the hurry-up, late-game simulation between second-teamers.
Earlier in practice and for the second time in recent days, Hodges guided the No. 2s on offense in the seven shots 2-point conversion simulation that opened practice. The No. 4 quarterbacks over the years at Steelers camps don’t always get such opportunities, particularly during a practice in which Ben Roethlisberger and the two others at quarterback are healthy and participating.
That might best exhibit how Hodges is opening eyes. The NCAA’s reigning Division I passing yards per game leader from Samford has shown an accurate arm and a pizzazz in his playmaking ability.
The final play of Tuesday’s practice, for instance, was a sidearm fling to Diontae Spencer in the middle of the field, a deft improvisation for a 6-foot-1 passer who was under siege from a fleet of large pass-rushers.
Hodges completed three other passes during the hurry-up drill, and he connected on two of his three throws in seven shots, both quick hits to Ryan Switzer and Tevin Jones at the goal line. His only incompletion in that drill came when Cameron Sutton batted down a throw intended for Switzer in the slot.
A player who attempted 50 passes per game last season, Hodges figures to get a look during the first, second and fourth preseason games. Though the odds are long he will do enough to unseat a healthy Mason Rudolph or Josh Dobbs — taller, drafted players with bigger arms who went to major-conference colleges — Hodges is standing out more than most “fourth arms” at training camps over the years.
• The first-team defense did not prevent a Roethlisberger-led offense from scoring in seven shots, though the fourth and final snap it ran is ambiguous because Devin Bush appeared to jump offsides. Roethlisberger threw the ball up for grabs, and it was intercepted easily by Kameron Kelly (there are no penalty-induced replays of downs in seven shots). Roethlisberger’s scoring passes went to Eli Rogers, Xavier Grimble and Switzer. All were quick-strike throws at the goal line. Grimble beat Bush for his score.
• The punting competition took center stage in the special teams portions of practice, with incumbent Jordan Berry and rookie Ian Berryman alternating situational kicks from areas such as when the line of scrimmage was near midfield or from their own end zone. Generally speaking, the pair matched each other punt for punt.
The only noticeably bad boot was from Berry, off the side of his foot while standing in his own end zone. It went less than 30 yards.
• As typically has been the case, the returners in the punt drills were Switzer, Rogers and Spencer. (Diontae Johnson has taken part when healthy). The only obvious error by this group was when Spencer trapped a punt he didn’t handle cleanly.
• It perhaps was merely a function of an injury-depleted secondary needing a body, but it was interesting to see and hear senior defensive assistant/secondary coach Teryl Austin explicitly call for Mike Hilton to take a rep at outside cornerback during an 11-on-11 drill. Hilton is a slot defensive back by trade, although he has practiced some at free safety this camp.
• It was minor and ended quickly, but there was a scuffle at practice. Rookie defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs took a swing at first-year offensive lineman Patrick Morris.
• Twice in a span of three 11-on-11 snaps, Spencer beat Brian Allen on post routes 30-40 yards downfield. But neither was connected for a completion. Dobbs overthrew Spencer once. On the other, Spencer was underthrown enough that Allen just was able to break it up.
— Chris Adamski