Steelers’ Randy Fichtner likes ‘professional’ approach Devlin Hodges has taken at QB
The Baltimore Ravens had just tied the score with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter Sunday. The Pittsburgh Steelers had possession at their 25 after a touchback, and overtime was imminent.
With one more play to run in regulation, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner wanted quarterback Devlin Hodges to take a knee out of the victory formation.
Then, a thought occurred to Fichtner:
Had Hodges ever done it before? After all, as an undersized quarterback at Division I FCS Samford, Hodges worked primarily out of the shotgun and likely had few exchanges under center.
Fichtner started to express his concerns before the rookie quarterback interrupted him.
“Coach, no problem,” Hodges told Fichtner. “I’m a professional.”
Such confidence is why Fichtner has no reservations about unleashing the pilot episode of “Duck Dynasty” on the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night in NBC’s nationally televised showcase game.
Hodges has not been anointed as the starting quarterback yet, but he took snaps with the first-team offense Thursday for the second day in a row while Mason Rudolph worked with the scout team as he recovers from the concussion he suffered in the third quarter against the Ravens.
Aside from the first week of the season when he was unemployed, Hodges has been Steelers property since May when he was signed out of a rookie tryout camp. He has more experience in the Steelers system than quarterback Paxton Lynch, a former first-round pick who was signed to the practice squad after Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow injury.
“He has the foundation. He’s been with us the whole time,” Fichtner said about Hodges. “Devlin is a lot like Mason. He loves the game, and it’s hard to kick him out of the building, and he keeps his ears open and his mouth shut. That’s probably pretty good for a young quarterback.”
Hodges made a favorable impression on the second-year offensive coordinator from the moment he showed up for a rookie minicamp tryout two weeks after the NFL Draft. After being bypassed in the draft, Hodges received a phone call from Dan Rooney Jr., the Steelers player personnel coordinator, who invited him for the rookie minicamp tryout. Then, Hodges got a call from the New York Giants, who were holding their rookie minicamp one week earlier than the Steelers.
Hodges agreed to try out for the Giants, figuring his chances of landing a contract were slim after New York had drafted quarterback Daniel Jones in the first round.
“I knew I was coming here, and I wanted to get a feel for what the process was like,” Hodges said.
It paid dividends for Hodges, who was rewarded with a contract to be the fourth quarterback on the Steelers offseason roster.
“I just remember him pushing the ball down the field and remember him making completions,” Fichtner said about rookie minicamp. “Before I even knew what his name was because I messed it up a few times, I started calling him, ‘Duck.’ ”
The nickname Hodges had earned as a kid growing up in Alabama when he won several duck-calling competitions followed him to the professional football stage.
“From the minute he got here, you liked the personality,” Fichtner said. “You loved his savvy as a quarterback. You liked the way he gets the ball out of his hands. I still don’t know everything about Duck, but we’re learning.”
The question is whether Fichtner, who designed an offense for 16-year veteran Roethlisberger and already tweaked it once for Rudolph, has learned enough to design a comfortable and productive scheme for Hodges to run. That’s particularly true for an offense that will be minus wildcat running back Jaylen Samuels and most likely starting wide receiver James Washington against the Chargers.
Even with the transition to Rudolph — and to a lesser extent, Hodges — the Steelers have run the ball 85% of the time out of the shotgun. Hodges rarely lined up under center in college but, with the Steelers struggling to find an identity running the ball, he could be asked to line up more under center.
Hodges and Maurkice Pouncey spent some time in practice Thursday working on the quarterback-center exchange.
“You can run a full offense when you’re capable of doing that,” Fichtner said. “Collectively, we’re going to do the best things we can, use the people to do the things they do best. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is at this point.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .