Steelers confident they'll fly with Duck Hodges
There's an overwhelming sense of comfort in the Steelers' locker room. A lack of panic in a situation many believe to be dyer. At 1-4, headed across the country, with a third-string undrafted rookie quarterback making his first NFL start, the Steelers should not be this calm. And yet, you'd never guess this team was fighting with their backs against the wall.
For 15 years, this team has known one constant - Ben Roethlisberger. A quarterback who will, one day, find himself in Canton, Ohio, enshrined in NFL history.
In the last four weeks, that constant has disappeared, and some. The Steelers aren't just dealing with losing a starting quarterback. Their plate is as full as it's been in, well, 15 years.
There aren't many places worse than 1-4. Heading into the sixth week of the season, the remaining one-win teams (Broncos, Falcons and Cardinals) have been unofficially ruled out of the postseason. No hope of catching a divisional leader, or earning a wildcard spot. Not the Steelers.
In this back against the wall, no chances left, game in Los Angeles, the Steelers feel as if they're walking into any other Sunday. All because of Devlin 'Duck' Hodges.
The reoccurring word surrounding Hodges' name is 'confidence'. It started Tuesday when Mike Tomlin described his new quarterback the only way Tomlin could. "He has an awareness and savvy, or moxie, about him that is beyond his experience."
And from there, it hasn't stopped.
"He's confident," Ramon Foster described Hodges. "When you're a passionate type of guy and you've played well at whatever level you've played at, you have a certain confidence about yourself.
There's no other way for Hodges to make his first NFL start. It's movie-like. Undrafted, unsigned for 16 days, and then - cut. With three quarterbacks on the roster, Pittsburgh didn't need Hodges on their roster - for 10 days. Resigning with the team on September 10 after being released August 31.
33 days later, he'll step on the field at StubHub Center as a starter.
You can't write this. Hodges never doubted it for a second, though. "In five years, ten years from now, if I'm still playing in the NFL, I think this whole story will just fit who I am," Hodges said. "It just shows that hard work and confidence in yourself, belief in yourself - you can accomplish your dreams."
Confidence is a revolving theme of Hodges'. A 6'1 passer who only received offers from FBS schools, yet Hodges never shied away from pressure.
Hodges' resume at Samford is lengthy - 2018 Walter Payton Award winner, FCS career passing-yards record holder, 3-time Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year. All supported by 468 yards and 3 touchdowns against Mississippi State and 475-yards against Florida State, all in an offense that scored more than 60-points four times with Hodges behind center.
It's nothing new, though. Confidence is engraved in Duck Hodges as much as anything. It always has been. "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."
Hodges' support system is large. Even in the Steelers' locker room, everyone believes in their QB. "New stars come in here every year," Foster said. "I'm not saying he's going to go out and become a superstar, but you never know anytime you get a guy like that, that's not timid by the situation."
But even if no one believed in the third-stringer, he'd believe in himself. "I have a lot of people that believe in me, but if no one believed in me, I think I could still get the job done because of the belief I have in myself," Hodges said.
His confidence comes in a humbling manner. Hodges firmly believes he's worthy of stepping on an NFL field as a starting quarterback, but he'll always keep his fun-loving personality his team love. Laughing and joking, keeping the energy light for the veterans that surround him.
"I'm happy for him," Foster said. "He walks into the locker room and the huddle like a little kid, but he plays big."
It comes with the journey, according to Hodges. He may be focused on winning, but he doesn't ignore the fact that he's living the dream. He's spent 26 days wondering if he'll get an opportunity in this league. Now that he has it, he's not going to forget why he was chasing it in the first place.
"No matter what, I try to sit down and make sure that football is fun, that I'm having fun," Hodges said. "That's something I try to bring to the table every day. I'm out there smiling, laughing, having a good time.
How many people get to call their job football? It's fun, it's a blessing, and I'm happy each-and-every day I come here."
Duck heads into Week 6 as the starter, with the entire team behind him. There's a, as Tomlin put it, 'Moxy' in the air. One created only by Duck, that has the entire Steelers locker room believing this unknown quarterback can come in and turn this season around. One that has left a simple mindset for a team fighting for a thread of life.
A mindset JuJu Smith-Schuster described swiftly because, with Devlin 'Duck' Hodges behind center, Smith-Schuster knows what this team is capable of. "I'm not nervous at all."