Gardner Minshew's improbable rookie season sustained its first speed bump on Sunday. Minshew, the Jacksonville Jaguars' sixth-round pick in this year's draft, sustained his first loss as a starter after leading the Jaguars to consecutive wins.
Devlin Hodges, the Pittsburgh Steelers' backup quarterback, may look to follow in Minshew's footsteps as another unheralded rookie quarterback that leads his team to victory. Hodges, given quarterback Mason Rudolph's current status after during the third quarter of Sunday's loss to the visiting Baltimore Ravens, may start Pittsburgh's Week 6 matchup on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Hodges, nicknamed "Duck" by his teammates, played well in relief duty on Sunday, going 7 of 9 for 68 yards while leading the Steelers on two scoring drives. He appeared to be on his way to leading Pittsburgh to victory before JuJu Smith-Schuster's fumble in overtime set up Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal.
He received rave reviews from Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin as well as from his teammates after the game.
"I thought he represented himself well," Tomlin said of Hodges, who promoted Hodges to the team's 53-man roster after Ben Roethlisberger sustained his season-ending elbow injury in Week 2. "He gave us a chance. Gotta tip your cap to him. You're talking about a guy who didn't make our opening 53 and all of his things, we know his story. But you also got to acknowledge that he's done some good things at every step along the way through the team developing process when given an opportunity and that's why he's in the position that he's in and that's probably why he made the positive showing as positive as he did today."
Road to the NFL
In case you don't know his story, Hodges' road to the NFL has been interesting, to say the least. One of the most prolific passers in FBS history, Hodges left Samford as the school's all-time leading passer. The 2018 Walter Payton Award winner (the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy), the 6-foot-1, 210-pound quarterback threw for 14,584 yards and 111 touchdowns with just 41 interceptions.
Hodges, who completed 69.1 percent of his attempts, threw for 4,088 yards (while completing 70.8 percent of his passes) with 36 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in 2016, his first season as a full-time starting college quarterback. In 2018, a year after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns, Hodges again broke the 4,000-yard passing barrier to go with 32 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He was also a decent scrambler at Samford, rushing for 1,017 yards and 17 touchdowns.
While he wasn't drafted, Hodges was signed by the Steelers shortly after the 2019 draft had ended. Hodges, who beat out Brogan Roback for Pittsburgh's fourth and final spot on the depth chart during Pittsburgh's rookie minicamp, played well enough during training camp that many thought that he had a decent shot at making the 53-man roster.
Hodges didn't make Pittsburgh's initial 53 but was added to the Steelers' practice squad after clearing waivers. He spent the Steelers' last three games as Pittsburgh's backup quarterback before being thrust into action during the third quarter of Sunday's game and the Steelers trailing 17-13. Hodges immediately directed Pittsburgh on a go-ahead scoring drive while also leading the Steelers on a second scoring drive late in regulation.
"I had the full game plan," Hodges told reporters after the game. "I tell y'all each and every week that I feel comfortable and confident. Shoot, we didn't hold back at all. We just went out and played the game, and, like I said, just wish we won."
Did he have any butterflies?
"Honestly, I kinda changed the protection on the very first play then kinda settled in," he said. "Felt comfortable after that, [the goosebumps] got away quick."
Rudolph, who is reportedly already in the league's concussion protocol, was able to go home Sunday night after heading to a local hospital during the fourth quarter of Sunday's game. While Rudolph may be cleared to play in next Sunday's game, Hodges will be receiving all the first-team reps during practice until Rudolph exits the protocol. If Rudolph can't go, it's clear that Hodges has the confidence in himself to get the job done. It's also clear that his teammates believe in him, too.
"He's one of those guys that everyone was kinda watching during training camp," Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro said of Hodges. "He played pretty damn well as a rookie just coming in picking up the offense. He did a good job going out there with no preparation, making some good calls and giving us a great chance to win."