It’s not often you see an undrafted rookie step onto the field during the first quarter of an NFL preseason game. Cincinnati Bengals edge rusher Darius Hodge would soon prove why he’s the exception.
Hodge didn’t really stand out on his first snap of the game. With 8:11 left in the first period, the Bengals had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a third-and-10 situation. Hodge tried to work his pass rush inside after exploding out of a four-point stance with fellow impressive rookie Joseph Ossai screaming off the opposite edge.
The Buccaneers would convert the third down, but the fact that Hodge was out there with other prominent members of the Bengals’ second-team defense does say a lot on its own.
As the first half persisted, so did Hodge, taking the field during obvious passing downs and doing his best to break into the pocket. He finally did so in the middle of the second quarter. By taking advantage of a protection error, Hodge became a free blitzer off the right edge and met Amani Bledsoe at backup quarterback Ryan Griffin for a fourth-down sack.
Hodge would go on to hit the Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks four more times and lead the team with a total of five QB hits. His last one resulted in a sack that ultimately ended the game. Just over four minutes remained in the fourth quarter as rookie quarterback Kyle Trask scurried out of the pocket at the sight of Hodge knifing his way towards him. Hodge proceeded to turn on the jets and sack Trask by his shoe laces seven yards behind the line for a drive-ending takedown.
It was the cherry on top to a dream performance for a rookie who can only be described as a long-shot to make the roster in a month’s time. Hell, the only other time Hodge was in the news this Summer was when he was arrested in July for a 2019 assault charge. It’s not inconceivable to think that there were Bengals fans shocked at the sight to see him out there at all, never mind leading the pass-rushing charge.
His emergence also comes at an intriguing time. Ossai left the game with a wrist injury, the extent of which we do not yet know. If Ossai is out for next week and beyond, more reps will have to be filled on the edge. Khalid Kareem will certainly take some when he returns, but Hodge clearly deserves as many as he can get if this is the kind of production he can create.
Hodge, like so many other players, need all the reps they can get in a preseason that’s been reduced to just three games. It’s safe to say he didn’t waste any of his Saturday night in Tampa.