As OT James Hudson III walked to the huddle for the Browns' first offensive play Sunday against the Panthers, Wyatt Teller delivered him a message.
"Hey 'sixes,'" Teller said, referencing Hudson's No. 66 jersey number. "Have fun."
The simple two-word message was all Hudson needed to feel some weight lifted from his shoulders in one of the most important starts of his career.
"I was just like, 'All right, let's do this thing,'" Hudson said Wednesday at his locker. "It made me know that if I made a mistake, (the offensive linemen) had my back."
Hudson didn't commit many mistakes in one of the biggest — and most fun — starts of his career.
He didn't allow a sack and played in all 80 of the Browns' offensive snaps in their 26-24 win over the Panthers, some of which were against 2021 Pro Bowl edge rusher Brian Burns. Due to injuries to Jack Conklin and Chris Hubbard, Hudson, a fourth-round pick a year ago, was the Week 1 starting right tackle and played arguably the best game of his young career.
"He did (play pretty well)," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He fought like crazy. Obviously, when you are going against premier rushers in Burns and going into the game against a heavy-pressure team, we knew that we would have to be smart about our protections and not leave our guys one on one very often. When we did, they did a nice job."
Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the New York Jets Sunday
A year ago, Hudson might've had a much harder time keeping the pocket clean.
His mind would've been flooded with thoughts, a common problem most rookies struggle to clear as they adjust to the speed and strength of the NFL. He wasn't supposed to play much as a rookie, but injuries to Conklin, Hubbard and LT Jedrick Wills Jr. forced him to appear in 12 games, and he battled to eliminate penalties, avoid missed assignments and block out overthinking about his responsibilities.
"That's where I made a mistake last year," he said. "I was thinking too much, trying to do too much instead of focusing on the simple things."
To refocus this offseason, Hudson spent the offseason in Cleveland and worked with Teller and C Nick Harris nearly every weekday at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. The trio spent around 90 minutes per day together in the fieldhouse working through pass-block motions and run-block assignments, simple work that can be done in shorts and T-shirts but goes a long way toward feeling prepared when the helmets and pads come on in August.
Hudson could feel that work pay off Sunday. He shot out of his stance at ease, avoided missteps and blocked with confidence rather than uncertainty.
"I feel more comfortable just walking onto the field, walking into the huddle," Hudson said. "I'm not thinking about 1,000 things now. Just being more comfortable, knowing my assignment, that's what leads to everything else."
By staying in Cleveland to work with other guys in the building, Hudson showed Teller and the rest of the offensive line that he was committed to taking a big jump in Year 2.
"It's him saying, 'Hey, it's time,'" Teller said. "You see that a lot from guys who are young, when in their first offseason they go to different places and do things, and James was like, 'Nah, I need to get better and work my butt off to get here, because I don't want whatever it was last year to happen again.' He wanted to fix those issues."
Pre-snap analysis was one thing Hudson focused on most.
The "analysis" is a broad term for everything an offensive tackle digests before the ball is snapped — where the first steps should go, who they should defend first and staying on cue and not committing penalties if the offense is operating on a silent count. The silent count is used when the offense is in a loud road environment, and it requires offensive linemen watching the center for when the ball is snapped to begin the play instead of hearing the QB's voice.
Hudson touched on all those things in the offseason work in the fieldhouse, and he specifically focused on his snap count reads in practices leading up to the Panthers game when the team blasted crowd noise from a giant speaker.
The results: no false start penalties and no sacks allowed.
"It builds a lot of confidence," he said. "I'm the type of guy who just keeps my head down and continues to work, get better at things they point out to me and trusting them. At the end of the day, I'm just playing football."
That all goes back to the message Teller relayed to him in the huddle — "have fun" — and that certainly reverberated well for Hudson in Charlotte.
"We work all day during the week to have fun on Sunday," he said. "That's something that sticks with me. I'm all about having fun."