Undrafted Steelers rookie QB Devlin Hodges draws rave reviews
As Devlin Hodges spoke to reporters after practice Wednesday at Saint Vincent, a pair of rookie teammates laughed and made loud quacking noises as they walked past.
Hodges didn’t miss a beat, remaining undeterred, similar to a quarterback patiently staying on his reads while pass-rushers approach.
It takes a lot more than that to ruffle the feathers of this “Duck.”
About an hour earlier, Hodges dropped a ball with velocity into the waiting arms of sprinting receiver Johnny Holton about 50 yards downfield during an 11-on-11 drill.
The throw was anything but a wobbly, poorly thrown ball, one some might refer to as a “wounded duck.”
Hodges, the Steelers’ undrafted rookie quarterback, wants to emphasize his nickname has nothing to do with the latter.
“It’s definitely not because I throw ducks,” Hodges said, explaining it was because he won a national duck-calling contest a decade ago. “Lots of times as a QB, if your nickname’s Duck, that’s usually not a good thing.
“But I’ve come to realize I think it’s something that fits me.”
Call Hodges whatever you want, but he is making a name for himself at Steelers camp. Signed off a tryout at rookie minicamp in May after leading NCAA Division I in passing yards per game as a senior at Samford, the 6-foot-1 Hodges is turning heads and raising eyebrows of teammates, coaches and observers.
As coach Mike Tomlin said when asked about Hodges on Wednesday, he’s not your regular old, disposable “fourth camp arm.”
“We liked him in the rookie minicamp, and he actually did a really nice job,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said. “We’ve increased his reps out here, and it hasn’t been too big for him. He obviously throws a lot of completions.”
Most No. 4 quarterbacks land on the roster for no other reason than because somebody has to throw the passes and take the snaps so everybody else on both sides can get their reps. The likes of Bart Houston and Dustin Vaughan and Brendon Kay were so forgettable that often they did not earn snaps in preseason games.
Not so with Hodges, whom the Steelers are planning to play in Friday’s preseason opener at home against Tampa Bay.
“He’ll get a chance in the preseason, and we’re kind of excited with where he’s at,” Fichtner said.
Said Tomlin: “That is the intention. Man, he’s been deserving of the opportunity.”
Hodges already has earned plenty of practice reps in camp, a rarity for the Steelers with their No. 4 quarterback. It’s especially impressive this year, with Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph in a battle to be Ben Roethlisberger’s top backup.
Hodges has run the offense during practice-opening 2-point conversation simulations twice over the past five days, and he has been deployed during situational 11-on-11 play, too.
“The moments out here,” Tomlin said, “haven’t been too big for him.”
Every time the Steelers give Hodges an extra responsibility, he has looked comfortable. That doesn’t surprise Fichtner after Hodges totaled 14,566 passing yards in college.
So why wasn’t Hodges more heralded? The stigma of stat-collecting in a spread offense, a lack of ideal size and the small-school pedigree did him no favors come draft time.
But Hodges already has “punched well beyond his weight class” at camp.
“I feel like a lot of guys on the team respect me, and they get pretty fired up when I get in there,” Hodges said, “and I think that’s all part of (being an effective quarterback).
“It’s definitely going to be a new experience for me, being able to play for an NFL team in an NFL stadium. I’m looking forward to it.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .