Comparing Bills running back C.J. Spiller to an offensive lineman happens about as often as the mercury pushes past 90 degrees in a Buffalo summer. It's rare. But a man that coached both Spiller and Buffalo fourth-round pick Chris Hairston did just that.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney in describing his left tackle prior to his senior campaign last summer, called him their "C.J. Spiller up front."
While Swinney was referring more to Hairston's consistent growth as a player, leadership and football IQ than his speed with the comparison, it was still eye-opening. But when you listen to Hairston discuss the level of pride he has in keeping his quarterback upright you begin to understand that the soft spoken offensive tackle has a passion to excel.
As a three-year starter at left tackle for Clemson, Hairston never wanted to surrender a clean shot from the blind side on his quarterback. What helped him learn quickly was going against some of the better pass rushers in the ACC every day in practice the past four years.
"I did a great job coming along throughout my career," he said. "I was able to go against great defensive ends. My freshman year we had Gaines Adams there. I went against our scout team and we had Da'Quan Bowers come in, played a few years with him. We had Ricky Sapp, I went against him my freshman year, so that's something that really came along. And I had to in order to survive in team drills, one-on-ones and team pass and all that."
By the time Hairston was a senior he was a pretty polished pass protector surrendering just one sack on over 750 snaps over 12 games en route to First Team All-ACC honors.
"He is extremely big, long, good player, good athlete, productive in both phases for them (Clemson)," said Bills scout Tom Roth of the 6'6" 326-pound offensive tackle. "He's more of an in-line guy than a space player. He's played a lot there. He's a smart kid – very good Wonderlic score. He's very good, very smart and very tough."
That toughness was evident via his 35 career starts in college including a stretch of 21 straight.
Though Hairston manned the blind side for the Tigers, the Bills will have him compete on right side for a role.
"He was a left tackle in college and he went to the right sometimes in unbalanced situations," said head coach Chan Gailey. "We're going to take him and put him at right tackle. He's a big, long guy, long arms, tall. He's got pretty good quickness for a guy his size. If you look at the change of direction, the short shuttle, the three cone, those kinds of things, he really measured higher than his 40 time said he should have measured. So his short area quickness was really pretty good."
Gailey also likes that Hairston has played a lot out of a three-point stance, something that's seen less and less in the spread them out approach by college offenses.
"He knows how to come off the football and block for the run game," Gailey said. "Some of these guys today are only in a two-point stance all the time so that's something that we look at as well. We really like that he has some tenacity to him."
With all that experience under his belt the Bills do not expect his learning curve to be steep.
"He should come in quick and talk with our O-line coaches and just get the scheme down which I think he will," said Roth. "When he gets on the field with blitzes and stunts that's a big thing on film being able to see that and getting into position which he did well at Clemson with that."
And Buffalo's run game will feel very much like Clemson's for Hairston if he's in the lineup with his former college running mate.
"It's going to bring back good old times just having a guy with that much talent in the backfield," Hairston said. "I've seen what he was able to do on the field and witness him make game breaking plays. It's just going to be good to get back with him and play ball. All he needs is a little sliver and he can squeeze through there and hit a home run."