It has been 572 days since wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins played in his last football game. He was playing for Oregon State back then, but now entering his second year in the NFL, Hodgins has been rehabbing and training to be ready to compete this upcoming season.
Hodgins spent most of his rookie year on the Injured Reserve list after suffering a shoulder injury during last season's training camp. After a successful shoulder surgery last December, he has been recovering and getting stronger with the help of the Bills training staff. While Hodgins didn't expect to redshirt his rookie year, he is proud of what he was able to learn off the field from his teammates and coaches.
"I was taking that whole time to really learn the playbook and learn all the positions," Hodgins said on One Bills Live. "I could go inside at slot, outside, at Z or X or wherever. … Now I have the confidence to where I know every position and I have some tools that I didn't have last year that I learned from just watching and sitting back. So, I feel like taking that step back, I didn't want to do it but it kind of helped me in the long run."
Hodgins will need that confidence this summer as he proves to the team that he deserves a roster spot in a loaded wide receiver room. In last week's mandatory minicamp, Hodgins was finally able to ditch the non-contact red jersey that he had been wearing throughout last season and during the offseason training activities. Now that he is at 100 percent physically and has a great understanding of Brian Daboll's offense, Hodgins is ready to play fast and make plays when his number is called.
"I was super excited to get out there and just run around and not have to think about my shoulder," Hodgins stated. "Even last year, I've been through practices where it didn't dislocate or nothing happened. It was just still in the back of my head that something bad could have happened to it and I would need surgery. Now that I got surgery and I've done a lot of rehab with this training staff and they have done a great job helping me. I go out there now and I have a whole different confidence in my shoulder, so I feel like it's helping me as a player as well."
With limited practice reps last season, it is important for Hodgins to build chemistry with quarterback Josh Allen. He will have to capitalize on the opportunities he is given in training camp and during the preseason. So far this offseason, Allen has been impressed with what Hodgins has been able to do on the field.
"He's a longer body guy," Allen said to the media via Zoom. "He's surprisingly quick and I'm not talking long speed, he's got that too, but just a short game quickness and getting off of jams and making it a good release. He can do a lot of different things and I think they've been kind of switching them at the X and the Z. So, he's got the ability to play multiple positions. You saw him high point a pretty nice thrown ball today and go up and get it. With those, not everybody has the ability to do that. His body control has been fantastic and above that, he's a guy that likes to have fun, a guy that always has good energy, a fun guy to be around, and never a bad moment for him. He's enjoying the process and I know that he wasn't super happy with what happened last year with the shoulder and whatnot, but he's been here grinding and getting better with our training staff and it'll pay dividends when he's on the field."
Sean McDermott finds position versatility very valuable in this league and is proud of the work that Hodgins has done so far. The ability for the 6' 3" wide receiver to line up anywhere on offense is a big advantage for the Bills. McDermott told Hodgins to just control what he can control during his rehab and when he came back on the field to make all his reps count.
"A guy like Isaiah, I think is off to a phenomenal start again because of his process and the offseason getting himself healthy and now here we stand in the last week of offseason practices and I think he's putting himself in position to make a real move. So that remains to be seen, obviously, with work to be done, but I'm very proud of his mindset and the way he's gotten himself physically ready to go."
With the addition of Emmanuel Sanders this offseason, Hodgins has had many talented veteran wide receivers to lean on and learn from in his first two years as a pro. Before becoming a Buffalo Bill, his father James Hodgins - a former NFL fullback who won Super Bowl XXXIV with the St. Louis Rams - told him everything he needed to know about becoming a pro.
"I feel like my dad passed a lot on to me just really knowing the ins and outs of the NFL," Hodgins said. "Obviously it changes every year but him just teaching me how to last in the NFL and some pro habits that I need to have. What they're looking for and how I need to act and what I can do every practice. He played with a lot of great receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and he would tell me just to practice like these guys and follow what they would do. I studied how they would practice and how they would compete so I felt like I took a little bit of all that."