When Ben Roethlisberger went down with an elbow injury just six quarters into the 2019 season, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged that the rapport he had with the backup quarterback may likely prove favorable to second-year wide receiver James Washington in terms of the opportunities for playing time.
He was talking about Mason Rudolph at the time, of course, but it’s proving to apply equally well, if not more so, to the man who replaced Rudolph, Devlin Hodges. The former and Washington were four-year college teammates and now in their second season together in Pittsburgh.
They did have a rapport together as the season progressed, since the bye week on, but he has really put up some numbers in the past week and a half while working with Hodges. The rookie quarterback has had a better connection with him, certainly, than anybody else so far. That’s not entirely coincidental.
At least that’s what both of them maintain. They also share a bond off the field, including mutual interests, such as hunting. Last week, after connecting on a huge 79-yard touchdown, they celebrated by going duck hunting. Yesterday, the pair went off for four catches for 111 yards and another score, so what does that mean?
“All I know is I told James after the game, we’re going duck hunting Tuesday, just like last Tuesday”, he joked, although they are seriously going to go hunting. “It’s awesome to have that relationship off the field. On the field, it makes it a little bit more comfortable”.
This season, Hodges is six for nine when targeting Washington for 203 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a quarterback rating of 149.31. Obviously it’s a small sample size, but it’s a hell of a start. Now, though, Hodges has to build that same sort of rapport with the rest of his weapons.
“I try to get that relationship with all the guys”, he did say. “Not everyone’s duck hunting or anything. We’ve all got our different types. Just trying to fit in with those guys and do whatever it takes to build that relationship. It makes it a lot more calm in the game, and you can trust them a lot more”.
To see that off-field relationship translate on the field in the form of a level of comfort and trust that yields plays and general positive results is a significant development, to be sure, and is doing great things for both parties involved.