The 2012 NFL Draft is just days away and the constant speculation continues on which direction the Bills will go. Left tackle is certainly one of the positions that draft experts say Buffalo will look to address early in the draft. While some people feel that this is the Bills most glaring need, others within the organization beg to differ.
"We need tackles but I'm going to make this clear, we think Chris Hairston can play left tackle for us and win," Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said. "Chris Hairston, he may not be the prettiest foot athlete, but he's got so much length that he can protect the back side. We feel like he can do that."
Hairston started seven games at left tackle last season for the Bills, while Demetress Bell was injured. With no team offseason conditioning program, OTAs, or even a playbook until late July due to the lockout, this was a lot to ask out of a fourth round draft selection.
Left tackle is often considered to be the most important position on an offense besides quarterback. Therefore, a team generally invests a significant amount of trust into their left side anchor. Buffalo certainly showed last season that they believe in Hairston's abilities, which allowed him to acquire some crucial game experience.
"Playing against guys that do this for a living, you know you don't really get that with the shortened offseason last year. I didn't really get a shot at that; I just got thrown into camp and thrown into the playbook," said Hairston. "Once the season came I am getting thrown against rushers who I hear their name on TV and ESPN The Magazine and all that. Just being able to play out there with the likes of Osi (Umenyiora), (Jason) Babin, I mean you name it we come against one every week. It was pretty special and I took that experience and tried to really soak it in. This year I want to use it to my best advantage."
It's thought by most coaches that many players make the biggest jump in improvement from their rookie season to their sophomore campaign in the NFL. This is a realistic goal for a player like Hairston, who missed out on some essentials during the work stoppage his rookie year. He gained a lot of critical playing time last season, but now he can focus in on the details this offseason. The nit picking in the film room and vital learning process was stalled last year. As a result, Hairston was only able to scratch the surface in reaching his full potential.
"I think it all comes to how hard are you willing to work and this year I want to take full advantage of what I am able to do here in the offseason with all of these facilities at hand," Hairston said. "I'm trying to make the biggest jump that I possibly can and I want to be the best player that I can be. Whether that is a swing tackle or whether that's being a solidified starter I want to be the best guy that I can be. Hopefully, I can use this offseason to become that."
The Bills will without question look to add depth at the tackle position during the draft. Someone will come in and compete with Hairston for the starting left tackle position. However, Hairston is looking forward to whatever role he has with the team and will not shy away from competition.
"It's just the beginning stages. We still have the draft to take care of to make additions to this team to help us win," he said. "As long as I can do what I can do to help this team win that's what I'm worried about. I'm not really worried about who they bring in or what they want to put on my shoulders. I'm just ready for anything."