After a 3-15 season in 2019, there seemed to be nowhere to go but up for the Ottawa Redblacks this year. But after five games, a three-win season is starting to look like a best-case scenario. On the bright side, this is the CFL, where the bad teams in your rear-view mirror may be closer than they appear.
Despite their league-worst 1-4 record, the Redblacks are still only two points out of a playoff spot. But there’s absolutely no hope of catching anyone until someone in Ottawa is able to grab the reigns at starting quarterback.
After shoulder surgery almost two years ago, CFL veteran Matt Nichols has lost his fastball and now sits as the league’s most expensive backup. The new starter, Dominique Davis, has been a slight upgrade. He’s a far better runner with a stronger arm. But Davis’s accuracy and decision-making both remain inconsistent, as they did in 2019.
So, the mighty Redblacks went “Duck” hunting this week.
They signed former Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges to a three-year contract. Redblacks’ GM Marcel Desjardins is clearly a huge fan of Hodges’s CFL potential, based on both the term of the deal and the fact the 25-year-old has been on Ottawa’s negotiation list for several years now.
— Ottawa REDBLACKS (@REDBLACKS) September 16, 2021
Just two years ago – after an outstanding collegiate career – the man they call “Duck” was briefly a star in the city of Pittsburgh. He had signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent and following an injury to star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Hodges eventually made his way to Pittsburgh’s starting role for six games, briefly outdueling Mason Rudolph.
In all, Hodges played 8 games as a rookie for the Steelers, completing 100 of his 160 passing attempts for 1,068 yards. The team went 3-3 with Hodges at the helm.
Hodges was released by the Steelers after the 2020 season. He spent that year on the practice squad, working behind Roethlisberger and Rudolph. Hodges did everything he could to catch on again in the NFL this year. He was a final cut at LA Rams training camp last month and recently worked out for the Giants and Patriots.
Hodges was a four-year starter at Samford University, where he earned the nickname “Duck” for his love of duck hunting and winning the 2009 Junior World Duck Calling Championship.
More importantly, he was the Southern Conference Player of the Year three times. In 2018, he closed out his college career with a record 14,584 passing yards, winning the Walter Payton Award, basically tier 2 college football’s Heisman Trophy. For perspective, two other pretty decent future CFL quarterbacks – Bo Levi Mitchell (2011) and Dave Dickenson (1995) – both won that award as well. You’ll also find the names of future NFL stars like Adrian Peterson, Tony Romo and Cooper Kupp on that trophy.
NFL scouts describe Hodges as a quarterback with decent mobility who can improvise and throw well on the run. His below average height and side arm throwing style are often listed as concerns. His arm strength is described as above average and his accuracy and quick release are both excellent.
Hodges will now arrive in Ottawa and head straight for quarantine. Once that’s over, the Redblacks hope he takes to the Canadian game like a Duck to water.
By Steve Warne