They threw him in against the Ravens because they had no choice, but the Steelers didn’t know what Devlin “Duck” Hodges was capable of, and that included navigating the final seconds between the end of regulation and the start of overtime.
“We were going in with 10 seconds left at the end of the game, we knew we were going to go to overtime but we have to take a ‘Victory’ (formation) snap,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner explained after practice today. “You know, just being a coach knowing he’s played most of his college career in the ‘gun’ (the Shotgun), you start questioning whether or not should we go under center and take that snap?
“I went to him and said, ‘Duck, we’re going to go ‘Victory,’ can you take the snap? He said, ‘Coach, no problem, I’m a professional.’”
Fichtner should have known better by then.
Hodges’ second completion against the Ravens last Sunday had been a play-action bootleg to tight end Vance McDonald for 14 yards to the Baltimore 1-yard line.
The play had begun with Hodges under center.
That’s one of the boxes Hodges has checked since first arriving at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for rookie minicamp on a tryout contract, fresh from having tried out at the New York Football Giants’ rookie minicamp.
“When they let him go, we were looking for numbers for our minicamp the following weekend,” Fichtner said. “From the minute he got there, you liked the personality. You loved his savvy as a QB. You liked the way he gets the ball out of his hands.
“I’ll still say I don’t know everything about ‘Duck,’ but we’re learning.”
Hodges educated the Steelers’ players in training camp, and again on his first completion against the Ravens.
This time, Hodges changed the protection pre-snap before finding wide receiver Diontae Johnson for 13 yards.
“He saw something, he wanted to keep the tight end in,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “He made a veteran call, it was crazy. Everyone was like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ You could tell he was prepared.
“It’s rare for some veteran quarterbacks to do that. When he did it, it was pretty cool.”
That’s the type of reaction Hodges has inspired often since joining the Steelers.
“It was pretty cool when we found out he was a duck-caller,” Pouncey continued. “We thought that was his last name (‘Duck’). And he came out wth a sleeve one day, a white quarterback with a sleeve, we’re going to name you ‘JaMarcus,’ and we changed his name.
“That was like the running joke for the longest time. That’s what made us pretty close from the beginning.”
Mason Rudolph remains in the concussion protocol, which has Hodges positioned to make his first NFL start on Sunday night in Los Angeles against the Chargers.
Pouncey is sold on Hodges having the game to handle the assignment.
“His college tape says enough,” Pouncey said. “We don’t have to sit here and endorse him. He has the most passing yards in the (college) division he was in (FCS).
“You ain’t no candy bar doin’ that.”
The Steelers prepare for the Week 6 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers