I’m not sure that there have been many players in recent Pittsburgh Steelers history who have had a shorter burst of passionate fandom than quarterback Devin Hodges, who at one point in the season got grown men to wear duck masks and quack in the stands. There is a slight possibility that some of the individuals who did this were not even intoxicated at the time (one swapped the duck mask for a deer mask when he was benched for Mason Rudolph in Week 16 in one of the greatest and most surreal moments of the 2019 season).
An undrafted rookie out of Samford, a small school, who wasn’t even signed after the draft, Hodges originally earned his way to the 90-man roster through a tryout invitation at rookie minicamp. His upward ascent was clean and smooth until he was waived at the end of the preseason. But after the team traded Joshua Dobbs after Week One, it was re-signed to the practice squad, and then a week later after Ben Roethlisberger was injured, to the 53-man roster.
In all, Hodges would play in eight games and start six of them. He won his first three games as a starter, the first rookie undrafted free agent quarterback in the modern era to do so, but lost the final three in a disastrous December run that cost Pittsburgh a playoff spot.
During those final three games, he completed only 43 of 80 pass attempts for 381 yards with one touchdown pass to six interceptions, fumbling three times (losing one and taking nine sacks, with a quarterback rating of 39.6.
He played poorly. He knows it as well as anyone. But he still contends that he learned and grew and became a better player and a better quarterback through the experience, as he told Teresa Varley recently as part of the team website’s training camp blog.
“I feel like I have grown as a player a lot. The first time I was thrown in there and did well. Even though I didn’t play my best the last couple of games I grew, and I got better”, he said. “Even though it might not have looked like it, that is what happened. I grew as a player understanding the concepts, understanding the defense, things that come with playing the game and especially the quarterback position”.
Once Hodges’ struggles became more evident in the final month of the season, many fans who were previously behind him and had pulled to have Rudolph benched were now calling for the reverse, and what’s more, arguing that he simply doesn’t have the talent to be an NFL player, without the possibility of the required improvement over time.
What I remind these players is that Hodges was further along at just about every stage of his rookie season than was any other quarterback the Steelers have had at the same point in their careers since Ben Roethlisberger. There’s no reason to believe that he can’t be better in 2020 than he was in 2019, the same way Rudolph was better in 2019 than he was in 2018, and Dobbs was in 2018 than he was in 2017.