Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Chris Hairston is back on the field after missing all of last season to illness and knows he has a lot to prove.
“This has always been a league of what have you done for me lately,” Hairston said after Thursday’s voluntary spring practice. “With a new coaching staff coming in and them not being able to see me play under live bullets, I obviously have to make this team this year. It’s not a foregone conclusion I’ll be on that 53. I know that. I have to be available and reliable and able to get the job done.”
Hairston was hindered last summer by a sore back but then was unable to work at all at training camp. He was put on the season-long injured reserve list due to a non-football illness, and it was not related to his back.
Asked if it was a heart issue, Hairston said: “It wasn’t a heart issue. It was something that just came out of nowhere, and I had to let it work itself out. I don’t really want to elaborate on it.”
Hairston acknowledged in a tweet when he was put on IR last summer that he was “faced with his own mortality.” He wasn’t cleared to practice fully until last month.
“It feels good to be back on the field,” he said. “It was forever, missing an entire season. I feel good, still a little rusty. But it’s coming back. It won’t be long ’till I’m in a position where I know I can be successful.”
Hairston, a fourth-round pick out of Clemson in 2011, was considered a competent No. 3 “swing tackle” after his first two seasons. He started seven games as a rookie and eight in 2012. But his bid to push right tackle Erik Pears for a starting spot last season never materialized.
Now he will need a strong training camp and preseason to make the team. Pears is the incumbent starter at right tackle. But rookie second-round draft pick Cyrus Kouandjio is expected to eventually take over the right tackle job. Cordy Glenn is entrenched at left tackle. There’s room for another tackle on the roster, and the spot is wide open. The Bills drafted talented but raw Seantrel Henderson, a 6-foot-7, 331-pounder, in the seventh round. Antoine McClain is among the other tackle candidates.
Hairston, 6-6 and 320, said his back problems are resolved, thanks in part to his long layoff. “It sort of was a blessing in disguise in that I was able to take it slowly and really pay attention to my back,” he said. “I still have a lot of work to do. Being out that long has set me back. But these strength and conditioning guys are top tier in helping me get back.”
“Honestly, it’s a blessing to be here,” Hairston said. “Being taken away from football puts a lot of things into perspective.”
The Bills announced the signing of Kouandjio, their second-round draft pick from the University of Alabama. The deal is for four years and is believed to be worth about $4.8 million. Kouandjio was the 44th overall pick in the draft. He will get a signing bonus of about $1.8 million. The deal completes the Bills’ rookie signings. First-round pick Sammy Watkins signed his contract on Wednesday. Kouandjio is a 6-foot-7, 322-pounder.
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