KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Ryan Lilja had never played a meaningful game at center, unless you count the sixth grade — in basketball. But that's exactly where the Kansas City Chiefs veteran found himself last Sunday.
More accustomed to playing guard, Lilja performed flawlessly in delivering snaps to quarterback Matt Cassel when second-year pro Rodney Hudson went down with an injury. In fact, Lilja played so well that he could be the starting center for the remainder of the year.
The Chiefs put Hudson on injured reserve Wednesday with a broken bone in his left leg, and even though they signed offensive linemen Russ Hochstein and Bryan Mattison to provide depth, coach Romeo Crennel said the plan is to move forward with Lilja in the middle of the line.
"Lilja was, to me, the hero of the game, a guy who's never done a snap in a real game," said Cassel, who helped lead Kansas City to an overtime victory that may well have saved its season.
Lilja played offensive tackle in high school, and moved to guard in college, but he admitted that he was "terrified" — only half-jokingly — when he was pressed into service at center in the noisy Superdome.
"In this job, that's what they tell you, 'There are going to be three things you don't expect to happen every day.' Not just every week, but every day. So you have to deal with it," Crennel said. "You have to replace guys that are not available."
There have been a slew of those guys the last couple of years.
Last season, it was the quality of players hurt: Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles, Cassel and tight end Tony Moeaki.
This year, it's been sheer quantity.
Starting cornerback Brandon Flowers and backup Jalil Brown are back after missing time earlier this season, linebacker Derrick Johnson has been hobbled, and safety Kendrick Lewis remains limited in practice with a right shoulder injury sustained during a preseason game.
Tight end Kevin Boss sustained a head injury two weeks ago at Buffalo, and he missed practice along with running back Peyton Hillis, who hurt his ankle in the overtime win over the Saints. Wide receivers Dexter McCluster (elbow) and Devon Wylie (hamstring), tight end Jake O'Connell (knee) and defensive tackle Anthony Toribio (ankle) were all limited.
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