James Hudson III almost didn't pick up the phone when one of his favorite football idols called him after one the biggest days of his life.
Hudson, a fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft and a promising offensive tackle prospect for the Browns, didn't recognize the number on his phone in the hours after he was drafted. He had received several calls after being picked over the first few days from friends and family congratulated him on fulfilling his NFL dream. In the moment, he thought the call was just another person in that category, which was the only reason he picked up.
"Hey James, this is Joe Thomas."
Hudson was speechless.
Hudson had mentioned Thomas in his first post-draft interview with local media. He said Thomas' film was the first thing he watched when he learned at Cincinnati that he would be transitioning from the defensive line to the O-Line, and he expressed desires to speak with Thomas, a prominent Browns alumnus and one of the best offensive tackles in NFL history.
It didn't take long for Hudson's wish to be granted.
"I heard the voice and I was like, 'Oh, that sounds a little familiar,'" Hudson said with a chuckle. "I was like, 'Oh man, I almost didn't answer your call, but I'm glad I did.'"
The message Thomas gave Hudson in the call stuck in his mind throughout training camp and the first two preseason games: "You're a rookie, and there will be bumps in the road."
That was always the expectation for Hudson, who has played both left and right tackle positions so far in the preseason and has certainly felt the strain that often comes with juggling two offensive line positions. The Browns have tested Hudson to see how versatile of a player he can become, and they know that at age 22, he has plenty of time to develop.
"He's had some really good moments and some moments where he's a rookie," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "That's to be expected. Playing both sides is not easy, so we're pushing him."
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Hudson didn't even begin learning the right tackle position until he arrived for rookie minicamp, where he was the only offensive lineman on the roster who could receive instruction from offensive line coach Bill Callahan.
Callahan, who's coached for more than 40 years and has helped transition numerous linemen to play multiple positions, hasn't been easy on Hudson. The stern instructions, though, are because he believes Hudson can turn into a quality lineman, one who might potentially serve as an always-needed swing tackle.
"I feel confident that we want to train him as a tackle right now," Callahan said in training camp. "We talk about his assignments and what the guard is doing on each specific play so he is informed. He has exposure. He has the mental side of it."
For Hudson, the primary focus at left tackle is to avoid some of the bad habits he developed once he started playing the position. Every lineman has bad habits, though, and he believes those will go away as he continues to garner more reps.
On the right side, Hudson is all-in on continuing to work with Callahan to refine his technique. Learning a new offensive line position is similar to learning how to write with a different hand — it takes time.
The Browns plan to give Hudson plenty of it.
"I would probably say I've done better on the left," Hudson said candidly. "It's just getting used to things. I wouldn't say it's overwhelming, though, and I feel like I can handle both sides."
And if Hudson needs help on either side, he can turn to a future Hall of Famer to offer some more advice. Thomas already cautioned Hudson that his rookie season wouldn't be perfect, but Thomas knows that watching his tape and continuing to communicate with the six-time All-Pro will help him strive closer to a finished product.
"(He told me) to pick one thing out to get better at each day, and by the end of camp, you'll be a lot better than you were in the beginning," Hudson said. "That's what I've been doing, and I'm just trying to take it day-by-day."