Rodney Hudson snapped the football, shuffled to his left and took off straight down the line of scrimmage. What happened moments later offered proof that the Chiefs’ fourth-year center is finally back to normal, just two years after suffering a serious leg injury.
This was Oct. 19, the third quarter of the Chiefs’ 23-20 win over the San Diego Chargers, and the Chiefs’ fourth-year center was pulling into the flat on one of coach Andy Reid’s trademark screens.
This one happened to be designed for speedy dynamo De’Anthony Thomas, and Hudson was essentially tasked with his being his lead blocker. This is bad news for Chargers cornerback Chris Davis, who tried to make the tackle but instead ended up flat on his back thanks to Hudson, who outweighs him by a good 100 pounds.
For good measure, Hudson even landed on him afterwards to complete the pancake and put an exclamation mark on what might be the nastiest block he’s had in two years.
“I caught him perfect,” Hudson said with a laugh. “To get out in the open field, those blocks are fun. Get out there and run a little bit.”
The play only went for six yards, but it was an example of the way the Chiefs’ low-key center has been going about his work this season — reliable, efficient and occasionally eye popping. His Pro Football Focus grade of 5.8 ranks eighth among 40 eligible centers.
“He’s very quiet, he’s very, kind of, to himself,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “But yet, he gets out onto the football field and he becomes a different player.”
Hudson’s strong start could not come at a better time for him, either.
The four-year contract he signed as a rookie will expire after this season, and since the Chiefs drafted a center, Eric Kush, in the sixth round of last year’s draft, Hudson could potentially be playing somewhere else in 2015 if the two sides can’t reach an agreement.
That kind of uncertainty would bother some players, but not the laid-black Hudson.
“You just play,” Hudson said. “You put so much time into preparing for a team and trying to learn what they’re doing, that you can’t even think about it.”
In some ways, Hudson is just grateful to be playing again after suffering a season-ending broken leg in the third game of the 2012 season. He returned to start 15 games for the Chiefs last season, but his blocks sometimes lacked the kind of power and nastiness like the one he made against San Diego.
This year, Hudson says he feels quicker and stronger, and more importantly, his leg feels fully recovered.
“Oh yeah, I think it’s a lot better,” said Hudson, who says he weighs between 305 and 310 pounds.
Hudson credits the Chiefs’ training staff for helping him get back to his old self. He can now chuckle at how far he’s come, strength wise.
“Coming back from the injury, I remember my first time lifting weights wasn’t so good,” Hudson said.
Hudson has improved to the point the Chiefs have actively tried to take advantage of Hudson’s ability to pull and get out in front of sweeps this season.
“He’s an aggressive guy,” Reid said, “He can run, get downfield, do some things. That’s where most of his finishes are, coming there down the field. He’s done a nice job with that.”
Reid, however, noted that Hudson’s biggest strides this year have come in the mental aspect of the game.
“I think the place where he’s maybe taken a step is that he understands all the schemes now,” Reid said. “He’s had a year to play in (the offense) versus all the different looks, so he doesn’t have to sweat that part.
“If he can think just an inch less, you play an inch faster. That’s what he’s done so far.”
In addition to making the calls for the offensive line, Hudson has also served as a on-field mentor, of sorts, for rookie Zach Fulton.
“I don’t know what I’d do without him,” Fulton said.
Considering Pederson has regularly used terms like “rock” and anchor to describe Hudson, it’s safe to say that this season, the club feels the same way about their 25-year-old center.
And while Hudson is a man of few words — and one who doesn’t rest on his laurels — there’s little doubt he feels a certain amount of pride in the way he’s been able to bounce back from his injury.
“First coming back from the injury, it definitely felt different trying to get my legs back under me,” Hudson said. “I feel like now, I’m able to cut it loose and play.”