Devlin “Duck” Hodges may be Mike Tomlin’s choice at quarterback for Sunday’s rematch with Cleveland, but the rookie tryout camp-invitee from Samford is in no danger of having his ego overinflated by his head coach.
“I expect him to not kill us,” Tomlin announced in anointing Hodges.
It’ll be the fourth time the Steelers have turned to Hodges this season after relief efforts on Oct. 6 against Baltimore and last Sunday in Cincinnati and a start on Oct. 13 at the Los Angeles Chargers.
Hodges has completed 27 of his 40 passing attempts (67.5 percent), for 318 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
His passer rating (97.7) may be higher than Mason Rudolph’s (80.3) and Ben Roethlisberger’s (66.0), but the sample size is insufficient rather than definitive in Tomlin’s estimation.
“There’s not enough plays on his resume to paint with a broad brush,” Tomlin maintained. “There’s going to be enough pressure on Devlin just performing. I’m not going to add to it by talking expectations.”
Hodges gets it.
“It’s as simple as taking care of the ball and doing what it takes to win,” he said.
His teammates and coaches, meanwhile, get where Hodges is coming from by now as the longest of NFL long shots about to make a critical, late-season start not because of injury but because he’s been deemed the best quarterback for the job
“It just kinda comes really easy to him, the game does,” guard David DeCastro said. “I don’t think ‘Duck’s’ ever going to change. He has that kind of cool, laid-back vibe, that’s just how he is.
“He’s been thrown in before. It’s the same thing as the last game he got thrown into, everyone’s like ‘tell me about ‘Duck.’’ I’m like, ‘I already told you the last time about ‘Duck,’ he ain’t changing any time soon.’”
Added center B.J. Finney: “He’s still ‘Duck.’ He still carries himself the same way and he’s still playing great ball, like he did in camp. Still ‘Duck,’ laid-back, easy-going guy, but when it’s time to go to work he flips that switch and we go to work.”
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, likewise, recognized a “sense of ease” about Hodges that doesn’t reflect his small-school, tryout-guy background.
“Maybe it’s just because he has been overlooked and he feels that he’s the underdog and what does he have to lose?” Fichtner suggested.
Hodges acknowledged the nothing-to-lose dynamic associated with his seemingly unflappable demeanor, but added “that’s something I’ve always been.
“I’ve always been kind of calm, cool, collected,” he said. “I think a lot of that comes from getting prepared and being prepared.
“I try to approach each and every day, I try to get better and really try to just have fun. I may not always be the guy that’s talking the most but just kinda like how I walk around and how I play, people see that I’m having fun and I’m enjoying it. Football’s a fun game, especially when you got a group of guys around me that are as good as they are and make my job easier. It’s really fun and it’s fun to say football’s my job.
“I don’t ever want to change who I am. I want to go out there, have fun, compete, play hard and just do whatever it takes to get the win.”
The veterans who’ll take the field with Hodges on Sunday against Cleveland don’t expect that to change, either.
“He did a whole lot of stuff in camp where you were like, ‘OK, he might be a ballplayer,’” guard Ramon Foster said. “And then you give him more and more opportunities and you’re like, ‘OK, damn, he is a ballplayer.’
“And that’s what we’re working with right now. I’m not saying we’re looking for him to save the world but what he’s shown us so far is he can be an important guy on this team if he continues to grow.”