By Adam Klionsky
Sitting at 1-1, there is a different air surrounding the Oakland Raiders as the team heads onto the road for the first time in the 2015 regular season. Head Coach Jack Del Rio and his experienced coaching staff have had a rejuvenating effect on the Silver and Black, injecting an energy into the team that has permeated from the top down, an energy that starting center Rodney Hudson has noted.
Hudson, a second-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2011 NFL Draft, joined the Raiders in free agency after starting 31 of 32 games for the team's division rival over the last two seasons. A three-time All-ACC selection and two-time All-American at Florida State, Hudson spent his first two NFL seasons learning under Pro Bowl linemen Casey Wiegmann and Brandon Albert before claiming the starting job in his third year.
For General Manager Reggie McKenzie, scooping up the man centrally responsible for the league's seventh best rushing attack (3,974 yards) and fourth-ranked rushing average (4.61 yards per carry) over the last two seasons was a no-brainer.
"We felt like he was one of the best centers in the league, if not the best," McKenzie said. The Raiders quickly made a big splash in the free-agent market by nabbing the stud center. "We had the opportunity to get him, we were going to get him."
In addition to jumpstarting the Raiders' rushing game, Hudson will be charged with helping second-year quarterback Derek Carr make the crucial leap from promising rookie to polished field general in his sophomore season. Even before he arrived in Oakland, Hudson liked what he saw from the young signal caller, who got the better of Hudson's Chiefs squad for his first NFL win in dramatic fashion on Thursday Night Football last season.
"With Derek, it's going great. He's a smart quarterback," Hudson said. "He knows where everybody's supposed to be and that helps between me and him, knowing what the other is thinking and always being on the same page."
Carr, who has enjoyed watching McKenzie and Del Rio pad the stables with explosive and reliable weapons such as Hudson and first-round draft selection wide receiver Amari Cooper, will rely on Hudson to aid him in his task of leading the offense. He does not underestimate the value of the rapport he has developed with Hudson in just a few short months.
"Rodney is a very smart player and he makes my job a lot easier," Carr said. "Going up to the line and hearing him make the calls, we have great communication. I think our chemistry together has been really good throughout camp."
Carr had to mature quickly last season, taking the field as the Raiders' first rookie quarterback to start in Week 1 before going on to become the only rookie passer to start all 16 games in 2014. In that sense, he has found a kindred spirit in Hudson, who says he "had to grow up pretty fast," when he took a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken to help support his single mother, Kathleen, and his family.
Already a standout on the football field at B.C. Rain High School in Mobile, Ala., Hudson, just 16-years-old, began working as a cook at the fast-food chain when he felt he could be doing more to help his family. Without a car of his own, Hudson's grandmother would pick him up from football practice and drive him to work in the afternoons. He eventually saved enough money to not only help out with a few bills, but also to pay for his own car insurance, allowing him to then drive himself to work each day.
"It just taught me hard work, to always work hard and the results will come later," Hudson said.
Throughout the offseason, Hudson worked tirelessly to prove himself every bit the leader he was brought in to be. As the newest face in an offensive line that allowed only 28 sacks all season in 2014, one of his primary responsibilities will be helping the unit communicate and come together as one. When it comes to getting the line on the same page, Hudson prefers to lead by example, unless it's between the whistles.
The calendar may say fall but the Raiders practiced in summer-like weather as they get ready for the Cleveland Browns.
"I enjoy trying to get us all on the same page and I love my job," Hudson said. "That's part of the job being a center and I enjoy it. There's always something that needs to be communicated up front, [but] there's nothing like somebody seeing something rather than just hearing stuff. That's always been kind of my approach."
Even though he's played just a handful of games in front of the home crowd at O.co Coliseum, the excitement in Hudson's voice is contagious when he talks about Raider Nation and the intimidating atmosphere the raucous fans present to opponents
"These fans are great. They're not so great when you're a visitor," Hudson said. "I'm looking forward to putting on the Silver and Black and going out there with my teammates and getting wins."