Bulked-up center Kush brings energy to Chiefs' line
Published on -8/16/2014, 5:02 PM
By Terez A. Paylor
One of Andy Reid's biggest pet peeves is low-energy players.
The Chiefs coach likes the men who play for him to be full of life and have juice. That is, to love the game and energetically attack the voluminous amount of hours they spend preparing to play football on Sundays.
It's no wonder he loves having second-year center Eric Kush around.
"You talk to him for five minutes and you feel it," Reid said. "He is going to look you in the eye and every play he is going to give you 110 percent, whether it is right or wrong."
Kush, who turns 25 in September, said he takes pride in playing hard and inspiring his teammates, even under the hot summer sun throughout organized team activities and training camp.
"When we're doing our team drills and even just seven on seven, it gets tough and people start getting tired," Kush said. "I try to keep (the energy) up, I try to dap everybody up and keep us going so we can try to finish hard. It helps me too, because everybody wants to just kinda hang their head and feel sorry for themselves."
But for all his energy, Kush may find himself in position to best help his team with his contributions on the field -- just not immediately.
A sixth-round pick in 2013, Kush is currently behind entrenched starter Rodney Hudson, who is two years removed from a broken leg but is the most experienced starter on the offensive line and looks considerably stronger than he did last year.
But Hudson, 25, is a free agent after the season, and with a strong year could command a sizable deal. So if there does come a point where Kush -- who will be under contract for two years beyond this one at a very reasonable price -- gets to play down the road, the front office can take comfort in the fact he's working hard to be ready.
Kush is listed at 6-foot-4 and 313 pounds, which is the same as last year, but is noticeably bigger and thicker than he was as a rookie last season.
"Oh, he has. He has," Reid said when asked whether Kush has gained strength. "He's put on some weight. You see that with linemen. Normally you get about a 10-pound increase that first year on the average, so he has done that. He looks strong, more physical. He is not getting thrown around like he did when he was lighter."
There have even been occasions where Kush has managed to go toe to toe in pass-rush drills with star nose tackle Dontari Poe, who checks in at 6-foot-3 and 346 pounds and is generally respected for his rare combination of strength and athleticism.
"The effort would have been there" last year, Reid said. "But the ability to hunker down and drop your weight and get in that strong position? He couldn't."
Kush attributes his strength gains to an offseason spent with strength coach Barry Rubin, in which he followed his instructions "to the T" and saw some pictures of his buffed-up upper body land on social media.
"We have a 'Fat-Arm Friday' so we go in there and just kill the arms and everything," Kush said. "Somehow, someway, that thing found its way onto Twitter and Facebook and stuff.
"I've been working," Kush continued. "Haven't put on too much weight, just converting a lot of body fat into muscle and working on that ratio."
Now, Kush hopes it will continue to come in handy, that his development will come down to far more than how much he can lift.
He got an important opportunity to see how he stacks up against NFL competition last year in the regular-season finale against the San Diego Chargers, when he notched his first career start, logged 72 offensive snaps and finished with a Pro Football Focus grade of negative-3.5 -- the worst on the offense that day.
Kush's run-blocking that day was the primary culprit -- he notched a negative-3.6 in that category -- but Kush hopes his improved strength, combined with the experience he gained, will pay off down the road.
"You've got to keep your composure and have fun out there," said Kush, who played his college ball at California University, a Division II school in Pennsylvania. "It was my first time playing in front of 70,00 people in a real game, so you've got a lot of energy going.
"But when you're playing center, you can't go too high, you can't go too low. You have to keep a nice base, focus and make calls. I've got a lot more to do than just scream and block a guy in front of me."
Kush also mentioned that the biggest difference between college and pro ball was the amount of understanding he had to have about opposing defenses.
"You've really got to see what's going on with sub packages, base defenses," Kush said. "There is a lot going on and the center, especially, has to be knowledgeable."
In this respect, Reid said Kush has made some strides. And for what it's worth, Kush had a strong showing in the Chiefs' preseason opener against the Bengals, logging a grade of plus-3.0 -- the highest on the offense -- in 37 snaps, albeit against second-teamers.
But there is room for growth in all areas -- yes, even strength -- and technique, too.
So in the meantime, Reid will continue to recognize his young center's work ethic and effort as he builds toward becoming the player they envision him being.
"He has got to continue to get better," Reid said. "But if he is going to make a mistake, it is 100 miles an hour and if he does it right it is 100 miles an hour. So we appreciate that."