Devlin Hodges Has Been Ready to Fly, and His Steelers Teammates Knew It
There's a buzz around the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room that has existed since Week 6. Something about having a man, more known for his nickname than his football ability, as the starting quarterback of a 6-5, playoff hopeful NFL team.
It's a buzz that came and gone for second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph. As the season progressed, and less risks seemed to be taken, the city of Pittsburgh began to shy away from the idea that their beloved team was going to truly succeed under the man once believed to be Ben Roethlisberger's successor.
"You get a guy who also realized this is kind of an opportunity for him to solidify himself in this league - not solidify, but really make a name for himself," Steelers guard Ramon Foster described it. "But he's going to run, there's no telling what's going to happen for him moving forward. People can see that he plays ball. I think that he has that chip of a small school, short guy on his shoulder. He has that working for him and I love it, I'm going to support it."
It's Devlin 'Duck' Hodges time in Pittsburgh - at least for the time being - and everyone is excited. There's a new-found energy to the Steelers, and their play behind Duck has shown it. When he's on the field, "sparks" happen, and right now, the Steelers need sparks.
"He's a leader like Mason [Rudolph]," receiver Diontae Johnson said. "They're both really good players, Duck just comes in, like he came into the game, it wasn't too big for him. It was like he was already in that moment in his head, he was ready. So, that makes us want to play even harder."
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said that the team's decision to go with Hodges didn't come from their loss of faith in Mason Rudolph. It wasn't Duck's future as a starter that edged them to start the rookie in Week 13. What it was, was the expectation that Duck could give this offense the energy they've been trying to find over the course of the season.
That energy was radiant in only two passes after Hodges took over in Cincinatti. Everyone watched as Duck dropped back and found James Washington over the middle for a 79-yard touchdown bomb that gave the Steelers the edge they needed.
It was a moment this team knew Hodges could provide. And it's nothing new for his teammates who've been watching him.
"He just carries himself like he's a vet," tackle Matt Feiler said. "He's calm when he's in the huddle, you don't hear panic in his voice or anything. He stays consistent in those terms, and it kind of carries over into the games."
It comes from his preparation. Hodges constantly preaches how much he prepares week-to-week. Before he was a starter, he was practicing like he "was the guy," readying himself for the moment he'd get another oppurtunity to prove himself in the NFL.
When that opportunity came, he shined - again - and jumped right into things like he's been the leader on this team since day one.
"Just the way he prepares himself for the game," Johnson described Hodges' leadership. "He studies the playbook, he texts us to make sure we know what we're doing on each play. He just wants to compete every day. He tries to minimize his mistakes."
None of this is knew to Duck's personality. Since the beginning, he's been known to be a confident, outgoing person, both on and off the field.
"It's something you can say I was born with," Hodges said. "It's something that I've always had as a kid. I've always believed in myself, no matter what other people say."
His teammates have seen it too. Since Hodges first stepped foot on the field at Steelers Rookie Mini Camp, he's shown nothing but his high-flying self. To veterans like Matt Feiler and Ramon Foster, it was something that made this undrafted rookie stand out.
Since the very beginning, nothing has changed. Hodges continued to be the same, confident, person he was before. Even enduring not being drafted, not making the roster, being brought back to play on the practice squad, and somehow, finding himself the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, nothing has changed about Duck Hodges.
"The first time I heard him in the huddle I was kind of shocked," Feiler said. "But like I said, he stays the same, and nothings changed with him so that adds to his character."
Simply, Hodges is a guy who's playing like he has nothing to lose - because he doesn't. He's acknowledged it himself and the people around him see it every he steps on a football field.
"He has this playmaker ability about him," Foster said. "He has this 'I want to prove that I can play in this league,' and I love it. That's what this league is built on. A lot of low round, undrafted guys that are making their way and he's another one of those guys. I mean look at Al [Villanueva], look at [B.J.] Finney, look at Matt [Feiler], look at myself. Just across the board there's just a bunch of those type of guys, and he's just another guy that's showing you, 'hey, you guys were wrong,' and I appreciate that about him."
It may not be the most conventional personality of an undrafted rookie out of Samford, but it's who he is, and if he's what this team needs to keep their season alive, he's who the Steelers are going to roll with.
"It just kind of came really easy to him [the game]," guard David DeCastro said. "I don't think Duck's ever going to change. He's got that kind of cool, laid-back vibe. That' just kind of how he is."