Darius Hodge exploded unexpectedly into the iPads of the Bengals coaches in late March, much the way he exploded in Saturday night's 19-14 victory over the Buccaneers with 1.5 sacks and five hits on Tampa Bay's parade of quarterbacks.
Andrew Johnson, the Bengals East Coast scout, sent an alert following Marshall's pro day workouts. Hodge an undersized 6-1, 248-pound defensive end, had delivered some interesting numbers:
According to some reports that day coming out of Huntington, W.Va., he not only ran 4.67 in the 40-yard dash, but 2.63 in the first 20. He ran through three cones in 7.18 seconds, vertically jumped 38.5 inches and bench pressed 225 pounds 26 times.
"Andrew made us aware of him because of that explosion," recalled Mark Duffner, the Bengals senior defensive assistant, after Monday's practice. "He's explosive, tough, he'll compete. Plays hard. He wants to be a good player. That's what you want. When you've got guys that want to work hard, are tough and they've got explosion, come on with it."
And so Hodge did. If there is one common theme for the defensive coaches from Saturday night, it's how hard they played while not allowing a run longer than seven yards and a pass longer than 18. No explosives, as they say.
Except on their end. Like Hodge.
After a season he had 6.5 sacks, he can't ever remember hitting the quarterback five times in 31 college game during three seasons. When the Bengals signed him after he went undrafted, they designated him a linebacker. You can forget that now. He's a pass rusher.
No longer is he playing in the three-point stance he used in college, a major adjustment.
"You get more get off in a three-point. I feel like you get more explosion in a three-point stance," Hodge said.
He's doing pretty well standing up at the line with the potential of dropping back into pass coverage. But right now, covering the pass seems like an afterthought in the wake of a night he combined with fellow rookie Cam Sample on a stunt for a fourth-down sack he shared with Amari Bledsoe and another one he got by himself when he flat ran by the tackle and chased down quarterback Kyle Trask on the other side of the field with four minutes left in the game.
The kids were all over the place. Sample, a fourth-round pick, moved inside and out on the defensive line. His stunt with Hodge came working at tackle. He ended the game with a sack rushing from the edge. Third-rounder Joseph Ossai suppled five pressures and half a sack in 22 snaps on the edge.
After Monday's practice, Hodge talked about his coaches and how Duffner, the edge/linebacker specialist, has worked with him after practice and how defensive line coach Marion Hobby has walked him through the nuances of the position and came up with some nice calls on Saturday.
"Coach Hobby talks about how to run the play, how to angle, how to rush the passer," Hodge said. "I didn't do anything special. I just fit into the defense.
"(Duffner) knows how to coach other ways … Some people do it in the film room or talking with me. He puts his hands on me, works with me after practice. He's helped with my stab and dip and working my craft every day. Coach Hob and Coach Duff have really helped me make some tweaks."
If he's not a linebacker, then he's a defensive end. Probably a nickel rusher. And there's always the question if a defensive line can afford that luxury in the roster numbers game. If you get to the quarterback like Hodge did in Tampa Bay, of course, the answer is always yes.
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"Whatever they want me to do," Hodge said. "If they want me to go in there and play the three technique, I'll go down in there and do it."
Hodge says this is nothing new for him. "I've been an underdog my whole life," he says. Still, he was the North Carolina Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, but after he committed to North Carolina State out of Wake Forest High School he couldn't go because of academics.
"It's all on me. It's my responsibility my grades weren't good enough to get into that school," Hodge said. "But it worked out. I had a great time at Marshall and to me, I'm working every day and that's a blessing."
He got a ton of texts and calls Saturday night into Sunday morning. But a couple stood out. The ones from his mother and grandmother after they had watched back in Carolina. On Monday, he could recite the highlights.
"Your hard work is being noticed. Keep your head down and keep grinding. We love you."
"That meant a lot," Hodge said. "For them to be able to see it on TV after they've watched me do the work day-by-day."
He knows there is plenty of work left in the two remaining preseason games. No matter where or how they line him up.
"I'm just looking to showcase my talents so I can make that roster," Hodge said. "I'll take whatever they give me, boss. I'll take whatever they give me."