Steelers’ Mike Tomlin says ‘Duck’ Hodges to start against Cardinals | TribLIVE.com
Steelers/NFL

Steelers’ Mike Tomlin says ‘Duck’ Hodges to start against Cardinals

Joe Rutter
2017914_web1_AP19336693807255
AP
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges will get the start again when the team plays the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 8.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Line judge Gary Arthur tries to get Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin off the field in the fourth quarter during the Browns game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, at Heinz Field.

Coach Mike Tomlin will have Devlin “Duck” Hodges ready to take flight when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Arizona for the first of three road games they will play in the final quartile of the NFL season.

Hodges will make his third career NFL start, and second on the road, when the Steelers face the Cardinals on Sunday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

What Tomlin doesn’t know is whether two of the Steelers’ top offensive targets will be available to Hodges. Running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster each have missed the past two games — four of the past five in Conner’s case — because of injuries, and Tomlin listed both Pro Bowl players as “questionable” to return Sunday.

Smith-Schuster has been sidelined by a knee injury he suffered Nov. 14 in Cleveland. He also had a concussion but was removed from the NFL’s protocol last week. Conner has been troubled by a shoulder injury.

“I still don’t have a lot of clarity,” Tomlin said at his news conference Tuesday when assessing the health of Conner and Smith-Schuster.

“They’ve got some work in front of them in terms of rehabilitation and maybe practice participation,” Tomlin said. “We’ll see where all of that leads.”

When the Steelers resume practice Wednesday, Tomlin said Conner “has a better chance” to be on the field than Smith-Schuster.

For the first time since being named the starting quarterback, Hodges will take snaps from All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey, who finished serving his two-game suspension and is eligible to practice.

“He’s a quality player on and off the field, so it’s significant,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin said Sunday that Hodges would start against Arizona instead of Mason Rudolph, and he affirmed it as his news conference.

Hodges completed 14 of 21 passes for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 20-13 victory against the Cleveland Browns. It came after Hodges replaced Rudolph in the second half at Cincinnati and guided the Steelers to a 16-10 come-from-behind win.

“He’s performed well in hostile environments,” Tomlin said of Hodges, who is 2-0 as a starter. “He just doesn’t have a big sample size.”

Hodges’ previous road start, however, didn’t exactly come in a setting that could be viewed as hostile. Steelers fans comprised the majority of the crowd at tiny Digital Health Sports Park when Hodges started in Week 6 at the Los Angeles Chargers.

Hodges also could receive a friendly welcome at State Farm Stadium given the 3-8-1 Cardinals already aren’t selling out their home venue.

“Generally when we go out west, Steelers Nation shows up,” Tomlin said, “so I won’t be surprised when they do.”

Still, Tomlin cited challenges Hodges could encounter on the road, such as cadence or working with a silent count, that aren’t issues when playing at home. That also could come into play when the Steelers play at the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens to close out the regular season.

“There are communication issues associated with environments,” Tomlin said. “It’s tough for a veteran quarterback in hostile environments to execute the necessary communication in the allotted time with just handling the things that go on prior to snapping the football.

“It’s doubly challenging when you lack experience in that area. It’s a natural challenge, one that you overcome by living and playing.”

Hodges has roughly six quarters of experience playing on the road, a sample size similar to the amount of snaps he’s taken at Heinz Field.

“There’s definitely more confidence each and every day because you learn things, because you get better every day,” Hodges said Sunday. “There’s a lot more confidence as the season goes on.”

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Here is some of what else Tomlin had to say at his press conference:


Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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