Playing center in the NFL is not easy. Calling out blitzes and defensive alignments, snapping the ball perfectly and on time, taking on the largest guys on the field, and either keeping them from your quarterback or creating a lane for your running backs. And there isn’t a single part of those duties that Rodney Hudson isn’t among the best in the league.
Today, the Raiders worked on blitz pickups for a portion of practice. Hudson was the star of that session, setting up from the center spot and telling on the defense as to where they intended on sending guys on the blitz.
“When you’re in the pivot and you’re playing against [defensive coordinator Paul] Guenther, a lot of things change,” said Jon Gruden. “Looks like they’re bringing a blitz to the left, then they’re bring a blitz to the right. They’re coming up the middle. He made a couple calls late in the down that were awesome today. It’s fun going to work with a battery that we have.”
“He does a lot,” Hudson said of Guenther’s scheme. “I think for me, I have to really lock in and anticipate and even after I anticipate, I need to trust what I see, too. Like you said, this defensive scheme is known to be multiple, with a lot of things. Mentally I have to make sure I’m locked in.”
Making those calls requires chemistry with his quarterback and a lot of trust. Hudson and Carr have developed plenty of that over the past three seasons together in Oakland.
“Derek Carr and Rodney Hudson are showing some really good communication and understanding of our system and what we want to do,” Gruden continued.
“They’re just on the same page. They’re very much into football. They love the X’s and O’s. The strategy and the game planning, the preparation. They put a lot of pride and time into it. When you let Rodney make the calls and the only time Derek really fixes it is when he feels like he has to. They’re just great collaboration. Between periods, before practice and it’s a pleasure. It’s a pleasure being around it.”
Once the ball is snapped, Hudson really goes to work. He is the best pass blocking center in the league and when you see him in practice, he leaves no doubt of this. Hudson routinely stonewalls interior linemen trying to get pressure on him. Either that, or he puts them on the ground. Often it’s Justin Ellis who catches the brunt of Hudson’s interior dominance, but he dishes it out liberally.
Then, of course, there’s run blocking, where the Raiders offensive linemen have been asked to do a lot of ‘downhill’ zone blocking which is to say they won’t be going side-to-side, but rather driving back the defense, as Kelechi Osemele noted early in camp.
Doing that requires the linemen to run a lot. Hudson is known for his ability and penchant for getting downfield and block with some surprising athleticism for a 6-2, 300-pound lineman. He does this whether it’s a run or a pass.
“The thing I love about Hudson is when we throw a pass, he runs down to cover, he runs down to see if the receiver needs any help every play,” Gruden said.
This is something the 8th year pro Hudson has been doing since college.
“Anything can happen. Trying to get that extra block downfield for a touchdown,” said Hudson. “Anytime anyone is around our back, we want to be there. The ball could pop out, anything can happen. I just try to get down field to make something happen.”
With as strenuous as it is to be an NFL offensive lineman, durability is key. Hudson missed 3 games his first season in Oakland in 2015 and hasn’t missed a game since. Even last season, when he had (freaking) kidney stones, he played through it. That kind of durability and toughness along with his immense talent has earned Hudson the ultimate compliment from Jon Gruden.
“Jim Otto was here for the Alumni [Weekend] and I was talking to him about Rodney,” said Gruden. “There’s a lot of similar qualities in terms of toughness, passion for football and communication and all-out effort. . . He’s the best center that I’ve coached.”
In case you were curious, Gruden has had four starting centers in his career before Hudson — All Pro Barret Robbins, 3-time Pro Bowler Jeff Christie, John Wade, and Jeff Faine.
Injuries: Newly missing were Martavis Bryant (illness) and Derek Carrier (sore). Still out are Gareon Conley (hip), Jalen Richard (calf), and Donald Penn and Eddie Vanderdoes who are still on PUP. Safety Erik Harris left practice early with a finger injury.
Returning: We finally saw some players get back on the field. Rookie defensive tackle PJ Hall came off the PUP list. Offensive lineman Cameron Hunt and running back Chris Warren III also returned to practice.
Just two players were fielding punts — Ryan Switzer and Dwayne Harris. Both did well, holding onto each punt. Yes, that’s their job, but Johnny Townsend can do some creative stuff with his punts and they handled whatever he sent their way.
Arden Key continues to impress. He has been abusing Kolton Miller in pass rush drills every day since the team first put on pads. Miller is clearly still a project, but Key could be the real deal real quick. Today, he went against Miller again in pass rush drills and just abused him. Key made a move inside, Miller committed and Key put on a vicious spin move to go around him on the outside. I can’t wait to see Key go up against Donald Penn in these drills.
Catch of the day: Jordy Nelson lined up out right with Reggie Nelson protecting the boundary and Tevin Mitchell inside. Nelson ran a post route, Nelson stayed put and Mitchell was a step late in picking him up over the middle. Derek Carr saw this immediately and threw for Nelson in stride for a 60-yard touchdown.
Defensive play(s) of the day: This was a toss-up for me on consecutive plays. Nick Nelson dove to dig one out a pass for what was either an interception or close to it, depending on if he maintained possession to the ground. Either way it was a good play. The next play, Tevin Mitchell stepped in front of a pass intended for Keon Hatcher to knock it down. It was often hard to tell who was throwing the passes due to players lined up between us and the action, so I can’t say for certain who threw either pass.
The team went ‘live’ today, which means some tackling was involved. Gruden talked about what he saw.
“We’re going to have some live periods,” said Gruden. “We had a live blitz pickup period today, 10 minutes of live blitz pickup. That’s what it’s all about. You can teach people who to block. You can have drills to teach them how to block. But in that period, you can find out how much they really want to block. That’s a winning edge in pass protection. As a defensive player, you have to beat a block once in a while. You’re not going to be free to the quarterback. So that’s a huge period, physical, alive. I want to take a look at some of our young players, live. We did that today.”
They worked on running the ball and it featured some solid stops from Derrick Johnson, Obi Melifonwu, James Cowser, and Shilique Calhoun. Johnson’s was a slice up the gut to tackle Doug Martin for a loss. Obi came up from the safety spot to hold containment out left on James Butler, then Cowser stuffed Butler up the middle. Calhoun shed a block attempt by Marcus Baugh to stop Martin for a short gain.
Just when we thought some good team sessions were coming to end practice, the Raiders took off their pads. There was still 45 minutes left of practice. Never seen that before. Gruden said it was because the players had “an extensive amount of work” which was tied to the live period.