Hodges not ducking Steelers’ QB competition


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Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

LATROBE, Pa. -- Devlin Hodges threw for 8.3 miles worth of yardage in his four-year career at Samford.

But when it came down to his opportunity to run a two-minute offense Tuesday at the Steelers' training camp practice here at Saint Vincent College, Hodges came up five yards short.

Such is life when you're trying to make an NFL roster as an undrafted quarterback.

Working with the second team offense after Mason Rudolph had come up short in his attempt to score a touchdown from his own 38 with 1:47 remaining, Hodges connected on all eight of his passes. That included a laser strike to tight end Kevin Rader between three defenders that picked up 15 yards.

But the man called "Duck Dynasty" by Mike Tomlin, couldn't get the ball into the end zone, despite making a pretty last-second sidearm throw to Dionate Spencer in the middle of the field as time expired.

Wait, Duck Dynasty?

"My nickname is Duck," Hodges told me after practice Tuesday. "It's a simple story, my sophomore year in college, I was a big duck hunter and a champion caller and they started calling me that. It's definitely not because I throw ducks. It kind of started in college and just caught on."

Tomlin took it from there, adding the dynasty to the end in homage to Hodges' hometown of Kimberly, Ala., and his southern drawl.

As Hodges mentioned, he doesn't throw many ducks on the field. But he does throw it from a number of different arm angles. The pass to Spencer on the final play of practice was more like a shortstop flipping the ball across the infield.

For the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hodges, it's just something that comes natural.

"I played shortstop growing up playing baseball," he told me. "Being able to throw it from different angles, obviously, me being a little bit shorter guy, I've got to be able to find different windows to throw it. I'm glad I'm able to do that."

He's also glad to be with the Steelers, despite a crowded depth chart at quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger. Josh Dobbs and Rudolph are both former draft picks. But the coaching staff has found ways to get the former record-setting Samford quarterback snaps on a regular basis, such as Tuesday's two-minute drill.

Hodges started all four years at Samford, throwing for 14,584 yards to break Steve McNair's NCAA FCS record. He was named Sunbelt Offensive Player of the Year three times and won the 2018 Walter Payton Award, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

But he also went undrafted, signing with the Steelers May 13 following a tryout at the team's rookie minicamp.

"The coaches are giving me a good opportunity. The guys respect me and want me to get in there with them," Hodges told me. "I feel comfortable and confident with the playbook and myself, and I think I've shown I can play in practice. Now I just have to show I can play in a game."

The Steelers feel he is doing that. And so they have given him more opportunities.

He's got the swagger and fearlessness one would expect from a quarterback who completed 69 percent of his nearly 1,900 college passes.

"Duck is doing a nice job," offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told me. "He's been pleasantly more surprising than I thought he would be."

He just wishes he would have gotten those five extra yards he needed to get the ball into the end zone Tuesday.

"We didn't win the game. That last one, I should have thrown it away and given us a chance to throw the ball into the end zone," Hodges told me. "That's just something that comes from doing it and being in those circumstances. I'm glad to be put in there and be able to drive the ball down as far as we did."

Maybe that will happen in a preseason game. Even if things don't work out in Pittsburgh, Hodges is showing he might have what it takes to play in the NFL. After all, there are upwards of 60-80 quarterbacks on NFL rosters each season.

He'll just need to show what he's been doing at the Steelers training camp translates over into the preseason games. He might get his first shot Friday when the Steelers host the Buccaneers to start their preseason schedule.

"They haven't specifically said. They just said I'm going to play," Hodges said of his expectations. "That's all I can ask, is to get that opportunity."

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