During his weekly news conference today, Coach Mike Tomlin said he was giving quarterback Devlin Hodges another chance, and he also said he's not assuming it's going to be a last chance.
After taking over for Mason Rudolph early in the third quarter of the Steelers' Nov. 24 win in Cincinnati, Hodges has held onto the starting quarterback job, and the team is 2-1 in those games, 3-1 overall in games he has started in what is his rookie season. But in that one loss, to the Buffalo Bills last Sunday night at Heinz Field, Hodges threw four interceptions – one on the team's opening possession and three more in the second half of a 17-10 defeat.
"The protection and safeguarding of the football is first and foremost," said Tomlin in reference to that loss to the Bills. "We didn't do a good enough job of it collectively. Duck didn't do a good enough job of it as a quarterback, but we'll move forward and hopefully learn some significant lessons from that experience.
"Duck will start at quarterback this week," continued Tomlin. "I look forward to giving him an opportunity to rebound. I think it's reasonable to expect growth from young players as they get exposure. Sometimes that exposure can be negative exposure, like his experience in the last game, but exposure is a tool for growth, particularly at the quarterback position. I think it's reasonable to expect him to learn from those negative experiences from last Sunday night and apply it to this next opportunity and really, hopefully, to not make those same mistakes twice."
Prior to the game against the Bills, Hodges had done an admirable job of protecting the football.
When he came into the game against the Ravens at Heinz Field after Rudolph was concussed by a helmet-to-helmet hit from Earl Thomas, Hodges completed 7-of-9 with no interceptions. With Rudolph unable to play the following week against the Chargers in Los Angeles, Hodges made his first career professional start and threw one interception in 20 attempts. He threw no interceptions in 11 attempts in relief of Rudolph in Cincinnati; one interception in 21 attempts in a start against the Browns the next week at Heinz Field; and no interceptions in 19 attempts in a victory over the Cardinals the following week.
That meant Hodges had attempted 80 passes and thrown two interceptions (2.5 interception percentage) going into the game against the Bills. Then game a four-turnover disaster.
"All of these guys are here, playing at this level, because of their ability to respond and overcome adversity, (to respond) at every level of football they've ever played," said Tomlin. "They're the guys who when they were on their high school basketball teams, they had the ball in the waning moments of the game, etc., etc. So I'm just calling on that, and it's not the first time I've called on that. I routinely call on that.
"Mason didn't take care of the ball very well in Cleveland (four interceptions in a 21-7 loss), and I gave him an opportunity the subsequent week based on those reasons. I think it's very reasonable in our business, working with the type of competitors that we work with, that you give them an opportunity to respond to adversity and answer the bell and deliver for their football team."
Left unsaid by Tomlin was that when Rudolph did start the subsequent week in Cincinnati, he replaced him one series into the second half after the second-year quarterback completed 8-of-16 for 85 yards, with no touchdown, one interceptions, one sack, and a rating of 38.9. At the time of the switch to Hodges, the Steelers were trailing the 0-11 Bengals, 7-3.
Might that same fate await Hodges?
"I don't anticipate or plan for failure," said Tomlin. "I anticipate him doing great. I anticipate him responding to the challenge. I anticipate him doing a great job of moving our offense and taking care of the ball. I hadn't pondered the possibilities of that, and I won't. I'll cross that bridge if, and when, I come to it."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"On an injury note, we had no significant injuries from the game (against Buffalo) and that's encouraging. Two guys who have missed some time are still questionable. One of those two being Vance McDonald, and he's still in the (concussion) protocol. I don't have an update there, but I haven't checked today. Usually (clearing the protocol) includes some element of participation from a practice standpoint as we push through the week. And JuJu Smith-Schuster is still dealing with his knee injury. He was able to participate (in practice) some last week. I think he was a full participant on Wednesday, but he had to scale it back as a result of that work. We'll go through a similar procedure this week. We'll put him in an environment, we'll work him, we'll see the quality of that work, we'll wait and feel the ramifications of that work, and then make judgments accordingly based on performance and/or health.