Rodney Hudson often uses short and time-tested cliches with the media, always careful not to say too much, lest he attract too much attention to himself.
The Chiefs’ starting center does it good-naturedly enough, though. On the rare occasion he’s present in the locker room during the week — he typically says he’s rehabbing or lifting weights or watching film instead — he will patiently answer every question, and it doesn’t take long to see there’s no ill intent. He’s just a quiet, hard-working and humble guy from Mobile, Ala., someone teammates love to make fun of for “being country” and yes, he tends to open up a little more around those he knows.
“Coach, at the beginning of year, really challenged him to be our leader on the field,” right guard Geoff Schwartz said. “And he is our quarterback up front. He sets up where we’re going every play.”
Now, you might think several teams could say the same about their starting centers. But Schwartz — a sixth-year pro who has also played for Minnesota and Carolina — cautions that in the NFL, the amount of responsibility that has been heaped upon Hudson’s shoulders is not necessarily typical.
“In some of the offenses I’ve been in, the quarterbacks have been in charge of everything,” Schwartz said. “Not this offense. They put a lot on Rodney, and I’ve been very impressed with the way he handles it. We could have one play where the defense shows us four different looks, and he might have four different people he has to call. The way he does things is pretty impressive.”
Particularly when you consider the fact that the 24-year old Hudson, who stands 6 feet 2 and weighs 299 pounds, spent the overwhelming majority of his decorated collegiate career as an offensive guard. Hudson, who takes pride in his ability to accept coaching and make the proper calls come Sunday, says he has worked hard to become a guy his teammates can rely on.
“I think as far as the calls go, I’ve gone a while without messing up one,” said Hudson, when asked about his ability to keep mental errors to a minimum. “But it happens from time to time, and I try to correct it so it won’t happen again.”
When it comes to performance, Hudson’s overall Pro Football Focus grade this year is 3.5, which — while positive — is roughly in the middle of the pack among NFL centers. But Hudson has undeniably been Mr. Reliable for the 10-3 Chiefs this year, and it’s important not to underestimate the value of that. As of now, he is the only player on offense or defense to play every snap since the Chiefs’ week two win over Dallas.
“He’s a rock in there,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “He’s embraced the position. He’s controlling the line of scrimmage. He’s directing the traffic up front. … The center is the nucleus of the offense, that’s where it starts. He’s brought some stability there.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid agreed, and essentially said Hudson’s steadying presence has helped spur the offense’s growth over the course of the season.
“That’s a huge part of it,” Reid said. “Defenses are way too complex today. They’re going to hold things right until the end, and somehow you have to get it communicated, whether it’s in the black hole or in Arrowhead.
“We’ve loaded him up, and he’s handled the load there.”
That’s high praise for a player who is essentially entering his first year as a starter. He started only one game as a rookie in 2011, and started three games last season before he suffered a broken leg against New Orleans.
To this day, Hudson — who says he had never suffered an injury that serious before — admits can’t quite find the words to describe the pain he felt in his leg as he lay on the turf at the Superdome last September.
“I just knew it wasn’t good,” Hudson said. “It was something like I never felt before.”
Hudson spent the offseason recuperating, and found himself competing for his job in training camp this summer. The team drafted Eric Kush in the sixth round in April — he remains on the team’s practice squad — while left guard Jeff Allen, a second-round pick in 2012, also continues to get some work with the first team at center.
True to form, however, Hudson has shrugged off the potential distractions of a position battle and has remained focused on the task at hand.
“It’s part of the game,” Hudson said. “It’s part of a team being prepared for any situation.”
Allen, though, suspects Hudson — who has played through elbow and shin injuries this season — has been motivated by the memories of last year, when he was forced to watch from the sideline on Sundays.
“Anytime you’re the type of competitor Rodney is … I mean, he has a lot of passion for this game,” Allen said. “Him sitting the entire year kind of built a fire underneath him and propelled him to this season. He’s having a great year, in my opinion. That’s one of the reasons he stays in there and fights, because he understands what it’s like to sit out the entire season.”
True to form, Hudson wasn’t terribly interested in revealing the emotions that came with dealing with a season-ending injury.
“I’m just glad I got that behind me,” Hudson said. “Hopefully.”
Thanks to the contributions he’s made to the offensive line this season, his teammates and coaches are, too.
“He might not get the attention he deserves yet,” Schwartz said. “But it’s coming eventually.”