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KhaDarel Hodge, the backup WR, had a big game in Minnesota and now he's likely to start for Detroit

KhaDarel Hodge, the backup WR, had a big game in Minnesota and now he's likely to start for Detroit

Tyrell Williams was selected to be the Detroit Lions' No. 1 receiver this season, but hasn't played since opening weekend because of a brain injury. Breshad Perriman was supposed to take the other outside spot, but he was so bad in training camp that Detroit just took the money and cut him. Quintez Cephus started in the starting lineup, but his collarbone broke last weekend against the Vikings.

KhaDarel Hodge, who was waived to play on special teams, found himself running a play for the first time in Minnesota with the game on the line.

DAndre Swift had just scored a touchdown run to help Detroit fall to within 16-15 with 37 seconds left. Detroit needed the point-after attempt to force overtime. Dan Campbell was concerned about how his defense -- shorthanded almost everywhere and exceptionally young in the secondary -- would perform against his team's limited resources. He said that his offense would instead utilize the 2-point conversion play they had been practicing all week to win the series before the game began.

The play worked over and over again. Jared Goff loved it, because it kept hitting.

Only problem: Cephuss route kept hitting.

Hodge -- the little-used wideout with two catches all year -- was the man on that route when Cephus was in the locker room recovering from a broken collarbone. He had never run it with Goff or the first-team offense before, but he saw how it worked and ran it exactly like Cephus did. He moved from left to right before the snap, then turned upfield to the back of the end zone before looping back to his left.

Just like that, he was open. Detroit had taken its first lead with 37 seconds left, when Goff struck him with a shot.

Hodge said it was very exciting for me the experience. Q usually plays the game in practice, and I usually just watch him run it. So I really ran it exactly like he ran him, and it came open like it did in practice. We said we were going to score two, and thats the play we've been working on, so I was already excited, expecting to get the ball, when I went across and came back and the puck was there. Jared made a perfect throw, and it worked out well.

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Hodge racked up a comfortable comeback to give the Lions their first victory of the season. Now that Cephus is on injured reserve, Williams is still a week away from returning, and Perriman has been gone, Hodge is likely to get more playing time heading into this weeks game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hodge grew up playing quarterback and went to Alcorn State to play quarterback, but left after only one season. He attended Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi, where he learned to catch receivers for a year, and then moved on to Prairie View A&M, in which il caught 48 passes for 844 yards and 12 touchdowns as october.

Most players with that sort of resume dont make it into the NFL. Hodge went undrafted in 2018 as well. Hodge, on the other hand, was spotted by then-Rams college scouting director Brad Holmes who signed him as an undrafted rookie. He began the season on the practice squad, and then finished his career playing in 14 games as a special teams standout, including Super Bowl LIII.

The Rams had hoped to add Hodge to their practice squad the following year, but Cleveland -- then headed by John Dorsey -- claimed him off waivers. Hodge caught 15 passes for 256 yards during the last two seasons with the Browns.

Then he was cut coming out of training camp again this year, and the Lions -- now headed by Holmes and Dorsey, the last two GMs to claim Hodge -- began a hunt for the special teams standout. Detroit needed depth there, as well as some insurance for a receiver corps that was among the thinnest in the league.

Hes a guy that can play outside, he can run, and if pushed, thatll do. Hed have length, speed, Holmes said. Hes another body that, when you get into the depths of the wide receiver room, he can contribute on special teams, and a good special team contributor, said Miller.

Then the season arrived, the injuries began to thin out any depth Detroit had built on the outside, and the timeline for Hodge was speeded up. After missing the first two weeks of the season, he started with five starts against Baltimore, then eight against Chicago, before scoring a career-high 44 points in Minnesota.

When the Bengals play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, he may make his first start since 2019.

Im really excited, Hodge said. Thats why I came to this. I wanted to play and prove that Im not just a special teams player. I can make plays. Now its on me to step up and show what I can do.

The Lions really need him to step up. Their offense has been among the league's most conservative, averaging just 6.01 yards per pass (ranked 29th). Jared Goff hasnt finished a season with fewer completions than he has this season. Goffs inability to find his receivers has been a major reason, with the quarterback instead relying heavily on short passes to tight end T.J. Hockenson and running backs DAndre Swift and Jamaal Williams, his three leading receiveres.

The injury to Cephus, Detroit's best deep threat, could further compound those difficulties.

I mean, its on us (to prove we can do it), Hodge said. We had to go out there and make plays. You know, we've got to prove to (the critics) that we are who we say we am. We had to continue to work, and not pay much attention to what people say about what we know we can accomplish. Time will tell. We go out there and make the plays like were supposed to, and then the script flips.

This week, we go out there and start making plays, says Smith.

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