The rookie out of Samford didn’t know how long he’d be needed, but he was ready.
“I was ready to go in for 10 seconds or a minute or however long it took,” Hodges said.
After Rudolph took a big hit in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens and left with a concussion, the Steelers might need a whole lot more of Hodges. He played a quarter and a half in relief in the Steelers' 26-23 overtime loss. Hodges completed seven of nine passes for 68 yards and led a scoring drive immediately after Rudolph’s injury. He connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster for 18-yard and 10-yard completions in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a gamer,” cornerback Steven Nelson said. “Has a ton of heart, and he’s a playmaker. … When he came in the game, he made a big completion. He had a nice scramble for a first down. Just shows a lot of confidence in a guy.”
Hodges, nicknamed “Duck” for his reputation as a duck hunter and champion caller, spent training camp with the Steelers after signing with the club as an undrafted free agent in May. He was waived in August but signed to the practice squad after Josh Dobbs was traded, and he was elevated to the 53-man roster after Ben Roethlisberger’s Week 2 season-ending elbow injury.
While at camp in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Hodges, 23, earned high praise from Roethlisberger. He heard more of that Sunday afternoon, as Roethlisberger stood on the sideline with his right elbow in a sling and talked to him between series.
“He thinks I am fearless and whatnot,” Hodges said. “Ben was pumped. He was really pumped after the big run.”
That big run was a 21-yard gain in the fourth quarter, when he dropped back on second-and-6, and instead of tossing a pass, he pulled it down and ran to his right before going out of bounds.
With Hodges at quarterback, the Steelers can expect more plays like that. At 6-foot-1 with a 4.78 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, Hodges is more mobile than Rudolph. As Roethlisberger noticed in camp, he’s poised and unafraid to throw the ball.
“I thought he represented himself well,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He gave us a chance. You have to tip your hat to him. You are talking about a guy that didn’t make our opening 53 and all those things. We know his story.
“You also have to acknowledge that he has done some good things at every step along the way through the team development process when given the opportunity, and that is why he is in the position that he is in. That is probably why he made the positive showing in spots that he did today.”
At Samford, Hodges won the Walter Payton Award, the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy. In his senior season, Hodges set a single-season record with 4,283 passing yards, breaking a record he set in 2016. He also led the country in passing yards per game (389.4) and total offense per game (417.8). With 14,584 career passing yards, Hodges broke the FCS record long held by Steve McNair.
On Sunday, Hodges said he had access to the Steelers’ full game plan, and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner didn’t have to alter anything for him. But if the Steelers have to rely on Hodges as a long-term replacement, they might have to return to some of the gimmicks that worked in their win over the Cincinnati Bengals and limit Hodges’ exposure to the defense and his opportunities to make rookie mistakes.
“He comes from a small school, undrafted, beating a lot of the odds, and now he’s in a position to command an offense and have a chance to win football games,” Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva said. “We love him. His locker is right next to mine. Really fun guy. Loves the game of football and going to need as much from him to win more games.”