Devlin Hodges knew that he was a longshot to even make a team last year. In actuality, he didn’t—not at first. The undrafted rookie played a lot during the preseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he was waived by the end. They did not re-sign him, to the practice squad, until after they managed to deal Joshua Dobbs, their third-string quarterback, for a fifth-round pick after the season opener.
A week later, Ben Roethlisberger went down for the season, and three weeks after that, Hodges would replace Mason Rudolph due to injury, starting a road contest the next game—and winning. He would go on to start five more games, albeit with mixed success. Now he is competing for a spot on the roster all over again.
The man they call Duck is in a battle with veteran journeyman Paxton Lynch, a former first-round draft pick who was signed to the practice squad, and eventually the 53-man roster, last season after Roethlisberger went down. He spent the offseason with the Seattle Seahawks, but lost the team’s backup competition to Geno Smith.
Hodges earned himself a following over the course of the offseason, and it grew to a fervor when he started making some plays and winning games. That came crashing to a halt with a three-game losing skid at the end of the year that saw him get benched and the Steelers get eliminated from the postseason running.
A lot of that was squarely on himself, even if his play wasn’t the only issue. He knows he played poorly. But he also knows he can get better. And he also knows that he’s not playing with house money, as he said last year, understanding his reality as an undrafted rookie out of Samford. He told Teresa Varley what he would like to work on for the site’s camp blog.
“I want to work on some under center stuff, footwork, some pocket movement”, he said. “When it comes down to it, I want to work on everything and get better. I know I have the talent; it’s how can we maximize the talent. I want to watch a lot of film, not really on me but maybe on Ben and how he does stuff, how he plays the game”.
Pocket presence was a major problem last year for both Hodges and Rudolph, struggling to read defenses while retaining a feel for the rush, either not moving at all or moving into pressure, generally showing poor footwork when the play wasn’t right in front of him.
Those are the sorts of things that can be improved upon with experience, and he certainly got a lot of experience last season, playing almost 400 snaps and attempting 160 passes. While Rudolph is pretty well fixed in the backup role, Hodges will have to keep ahead of Lynch, who has the much higher pedigree and the superior physical gifts, as well as more experience in the NFL—even if not as many snaps. In fact, he hasn’t gotten into a game since 2017.