Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was unambiguous in saying that Devlin Hodges would start for the team on Sunday against the New York Jets. When asked if he would be on a similar short leash to the one that got Mason Rudolph pulled in the game after he, too, threw four interceptions, the head coach said, “I don’t anticipate or plan for failure”.
But he does give his backup extra reps, or so says James Washington. The second-year wide receiver told Jacob Klinger of PennLive that Rudolph received reps with the first-team offense on Wednesday that he had not otherwise been getting. It’s easy to speculate that that is not a coincidence.
“This week coaches are having the former third-round pick practice in the same way Joshua Dobbs did behind Ben Roethlisberger last season”, Klinger wrote, whereas previously, Hodges had been getting virtually every rep that was possibly available to him.
The extensive amount of work he was getting shouldn’t be a surprise. Afterall, he is a rookie out of Samford, and hasn’t been starting all season. He was also playing behind an inexperienced starter who demanded a greater share of the reps when he was up to bat.
But would Tomlin really make the transition to ‘you get every single snap you can’ to ‘okay, now you’re just going to get the typical reps of a starter’ in the game after throwing four interceptions, when they’re heading on the road for the final two-game stretch, which are must-wins to make the postseason?
I certainly have a hard time buying that, and I’m also willing to venture a guess that Hodges received more reps in the week leading up to the Cincinnati Bengals game, during which Rudolph was pulled, than had been typical for him at that point.
So it’s not entirely accurate for Tomlin said claim that he doesn’t plan for failure, insofar as making sure that your backup gets more work than he otherwise would be getting is planning for the potential of failure. You may not be anticipating it, but it’s a bit of a hedge.
And it’s the right decision, as well. The Steelers are not in a position would the quarterback role where they can afford to have any level of comfort with what they are getting, where either of their two starting options can suddenly fall to pieces at any given moment.
I take pity on Tomlin for the balancing act that he has had to play for the vast majority of the season, either preparing a second-year guy to start and a rookie to back him up, or vice versa. Either way, it’s a treacherous tightrope trying to make sure that both players get what they need for the role they’re being asked to play that given week.