It seems like one of the most awkward rites of the NFL: a veteran helping a kid take his job. It said a lot about left tackle Jermon Bushrod when he paved the way for Charles Leno with the Bears in 2015. It says even more about left guard Eric Kush, who’s helping rookie James Daniels this season.
Bushrod was a seven-year starter, a two-time Pro Bowl tackle with a résumé sure to get him a shot elsewhere — and he did, in fact, find a starting job with the Dolphins. Kush is a six-year journeyman — cut five times by five teams in one calendar year — but scrapped his way to a starting job this season. He needs all the snaps on tape he can get.
But when Kush was told Daniels would get the next series against the Buccaneers last week, he did the only thing he’s wired to do — he coached him up.
“Before I was going out,” Daniels said, “he was telling me, ‘Make sure you do this. Make sure you do that.’ So he’s coaching me. Then, when I came to the sideline, he’s telling me stuff like, ‘You could have done this better. Did you see that? You did this good.’ He’s coaching me just how anyone else would coach me. He always helps me. I really appreciate that.”
To Kush, it’s just part of the responsibility of being a good teammate.
“We’re both getting [playing] time, so I’ve got to tell him, ‘Hey, this guy I just went against did this and this. You have to be ready for it when you go in,’ ’’ Kush said. “We’re trying to win. We’re professionals. If I know he’s going in the next series, I’ve got to tell him, ‘These are the moves I got, and he’s going to do the same for [you].’ We’re going to have fun and kick some butt together.”
That’s what being a team player is all about. But the hitch in that approach is obvious: the better Daniels does his job, the more likely the second-round draft pick from Iowa is likely to win it outright. Kush came into the league as an undrafted free agent. Daniels is the 39th pick in the draft. Kush played 37 of the 61 snaps at left guard against the Buccaneers. Daniels played 24. But it’s easy to see where the trend is heading.
“Neither of them struggled,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. “The plan is to stay the course, and it depends on — each week — your preparation. If they prepare the right way, then we’ll continue the way we did.”
The 6-4, 295-pound Daniels knows he has a lot to learn after reviewing the Bucs tape.
“I could do better,” he said. “I felt like I was sloppy on a lot of my technique — just small, technical things. Sometimes you can get away with that, but those things in the long run, they’re going to come back and bite me.”
Daniels’ stint against the Bucs is likely to accelerate his development — the more he practices, the better he gets.
“It taught me a lesson that the stuff you do in practice translates over to the game,” he said.
As for Kush, he’ll keep doing his job, even if it means losing it.
“It’s football,” he said, “so I just go out there and try to focus on what I can control — my reps, do my stuff and that’s all there is to it. Do my stuff and do the best I can. That’s it.”
An awkward spot, though?
“It can be if you let it be,” Kush said. “But I just worry about improving what I can improve and having a good time with my teammates, my linemen and just trying to win some more ballgames.”