With the new league year — and thus, the free-agency period — set to begin on March 10, the fate of several Chiefs who are about to hit the market soon will be decided.
That certainly includes star outside linebacker Justin Houston, a pending free agent who is a candidate to be hit with the franchise tag in lieu of a new deal. The deadline for the Chiefs to do so is 3 p.m. Monday.
But that also includes center Rodney Hudson, who is coming off his best professional season and is poised to command a deal north of at least $6 million a season. And one Chiefs player who might be wise to keep an eye on how things develop with Hudson is backup center Eric Kush.
Depending on how free agency shakes out, Kush could be staring at his first real opportunity to earn a starting job since he was taken in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of tiny California University of Pennsylvania.
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It’s a chance Kush, 25, has been working diligently toward ever since his selection.
“It was a good year (for me),” Kush said. “I came in, had a good training camp and had some great preseason games that let everybody know I can do it.”
Even though he did not play in a single game last season — for an offensive line that had its share of struggles, by the way — Kush says it was a far cry from his rookie year in 2013, as far as his preparedness goes.
“Year one was a great year for me to develop, and this year I was rock solid and ready to go if they needed me,” Kush said. “So we’ll see what happens.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid was complimentary of Kush’s development during the preseason, even noting Kush’s enthusiasm, which happens to be one of Reid’s favorite traits in players.
During the season, when asked why Kush hasn’t seen the field, Reid said Kush is still growing as a center, and he’s “a fine center.”
At the Combine, Reid was asked if Kush could have played this season.
“Yeah, sure,” Reid said. “He’s got a pretty good grasp on things.”
In a similar vein, general manager John Dorsey was asked at the Combine if Kush is ready to play.
“I think Kush is ready to play,” Dorsey said. “He’s champing at the bit.”
Kush said shortly after the season that he’s going to work hard this offseason to prove he’s ready for an opportunity. Unlike some players, Kush is spending the offseason in Kansas City so he can work out at the team’s training facility.
“I love Kansas City, I’m gonna be staying here all offseason,” Kush said. “We’ve got a heck of group of lifting coaches and trainers, so I’m gonna stay here and just work my butt off again like last season. Barry Rubin got me right (last year), so I’m gonna stick with the plan and work my bum off.”
Thanks to his work with Rubin, the Chiefs’ head strength and conditioning coach, Kush reported to training camp last year noticeably bulkier than he was as a rookie, even though he was listed at 6 feet 4 and 313 pounds, which is the same as he was a year before.
“I probably came in a little chubby last year (2013),” Kush said. “The gains are from switching from fat to muscle.”
It’s a process Kush intends on continuing this offseason, in addition to sharpening his knowledge of Reid’s vast playbook, though he backs up Reid’s assertion that’s he’s made progress in the latter area.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Kush said. “Just having a year under your belt, when you come back and do it again, (the offense) is already familiar. So everything comes back to you. Going into year three, it’s going to be great.”
Even if it’s not at center. If Hudson returns, he will be the entrenched starter there, but Kush was confident that he could also play guard, if necessary.
“We did a little bit of stuff,” Kush said. “I can definitely play guard. It’s not more than one position over. Just get some work at it and we’ll see.”