(93.7 The Fan) - At Wednesday’s Steelers training camp practice, the fourth-string quarterback took a snap, faked a play-action handoff and, with the smoothness and confidence of an ten-year veteran passer, delivered a perfect spiral down the middle of the field, hitting wideout Johnny Holton in stride.
Just another completion for the ‘Duck.’
Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges has started to make a name for himself this summer.
And perhaps that name should have been more well-known. Hodges, after all, is the all-time leading passer in FCS history, described by some as a ‘phenom’ after throwing for 14,584 yards and 111 touchdowns as a four-year starter at Samford. He broke the mark previously held by Steve McNair.
“It’s definitely kind of frustrating, coming out of college, doing what I did and having all the records I did and not even, right after the draft, getting signed,” said Hodges, with the southern twang he picked up while growing up in Kimberly, Alabama. “But, five years from now, if I’m on a team, it’s going to kind of fit who I am.”
While growing up, Hodges was a champion duck-caller and an avid duck hunter, hence the nickname. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has taken it a step further, yelling out ‘Duck Dynasty’ whenever Hodges runs the offense.
“The moments out here haven’t been too big for him,” said Tomlin, in the midst of game planning for Friday’s preseason opener against Tampa Bay. “Obviously the confines of a stadium are different. We’d like to get him some play. We’ll see how the flow of the game goes. Man, he’s been deserving of the opportunity. I’m sure he’ll get it here, this week or the next.”
Hodges has been more than deserving. From the outside, his performance on the field has been more impressive than that of either Pittsburgh backup, Joshua Dobbs or Mason Rudolph. His poise in the pocket has been eye-opening.
“There’s never been a throw that I didn’t think I couldn’t make,” Hodges said. “I’ve never let go of the ball and thought that my guy wasn’t going to catch it. I definitely have the confidence and I have the confidence in my teammates, as well.”
Clearly, the on-field swagger bleeds a bit to his personality off the field, too. But Hodges knows there is room for growth.
“I’m definitely out there playing with confidence and I feel like I’m doing well,” he said “There’s definitely things I can improve and work on. Part of it is, no matter what I do in practice, I’ve got to go out and show it in the game.”
Before breaking nearly every Samford passing record, Hodges grew up idolizing the gun-slinger mentality of Brett Favre. He passed for 389.4 yards per game last year, most in the FCS. It led him to winning the Walter Payton Award for the FCS’ top player in 2018. But, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder never heard his name called during the NFL Draft.
Then, on May 13, the Steelers finally called, lending an opportunity to another leader of an air-raid offense, joining the likes of more highly-touted passers in Patrick Mahommes, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and many others who come from extremely pass-heavy offenses.
“I think a lot of younger coaches that are coming into the NFL now are bringing some of that college offense,” Hodges said. “If you can throw the football, you can play in the NFL.”
The Steelers are planning to give Dobbs and Rudolph extended looks in the preseason as they battle for the backup job. But, if Hodges impresses enough, he could throw a wrinkle in what, two weeks ago, appeared to be a solidified quarterback room. And that is what he has planned to do all along.
“When I came here, my goal was that I want to make it to where they have to keep me,” he said. “When my name comes up, they’re like ‘nah, we’ve got to keep this guy.’”
Hear more from Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges below.