A former Rutgers running back, Hairston transferred to CCSU when it became obvious he didn't fit into Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano's plans since he had two very good backs in Brian Leonard and Ray Rice. The move paid off as he got the chance to show off his skills, setting a single-season school rushing record of 1,847 yards on 277 carries while scoring 20 touchdowns.
After being drafted with one of the Patriots' compensatory picks in the sixth-round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Hairston showed up at Patriots minicamp and didn't make a strong first impression, incurring an expletive-laced berating from running backs coach Ivan Fears during one session. In his second minicamp, Hairston also failed to make much of an impression. Then after experiencing problems with a hamstring injury, the team put him on IR during training camp, but eventually reached an injury settlement with him in September and released the promising runner.
Hairston is a big, powerful runner who can break through most arm tackles. He runs with plenty of lean, although we never got to see much of that in New England. He has deceptive speed for a bigger back.
One thing that Hairston has to work on is the mental aspect of the game. He appeared to be the slowest to pick up his assignments out of the running backs at camp. His missteps in pass pattern assignments caused Fear's aggravation level to rise. He also had some difficulty catching short passes from Matt Gutierrez during backs and receiver drills.
Hairston's physical development reminds me of Corey Dillon's. If the guy can "get" the playbook, then he'll be a strong acquisition for the Colts. But pro offenses require much more from backs than just taking the ball and running through people. It may take Hairston a while to understand that.
If he does, this former Patriot can become the short-yardage bruiser many teams are looking for in the league to compliment their quicker third-down back or to provide some supplemental relief to the team's primary back.
Ed's Take: The Colts were likely drawn to Hairston primarily on two fronts: his raw skills and his potential to be a power-back. Ultimately, this move was made out of need since the team needed to promote Clifton Dawson from the practice squad with Joseph Addai sidelined this past week with a shoulder bruise. Had either Dawson or Kenton Keith gotten dinged during the Buccaneers contest, the Colts really would have been scrambling through a limited field of talent -- and with a shorter window to get someone new acclimated.
Hairston gets a huge benefit from the team having a bye week, giving him and the Colts coaches well over a week to get acquainted. It will provide running backs coach Gene Huey with the time to see if Hairston can absorb the Colts playbook with very few distractions. If he can't under those conditions, don't be surprised to see Hairston cut loose as soon as the team is certain that Addai is fully recovered. But if Hairston can immerse himself and show a better grasp of Indy's offense than he evidently did in New England, the Colts might be glad to give him a chance to cultivate his skills on the practice squad this season with the hope that he could become a strong competitor during next year's training camp with his bruising rushing style.
For those who may see him as nothing more than a long shot, you could be right. But who would have guessed back in April that the Colts would have ended up with a former CFL player and an undrafted rookie out of Harvard as their two backups to Joseph Addai on their 53-man roster? After witnessing that and seeing how good that pair has turned out, I don't totally write off any player the team finds worthy of signing these days.
The bottom line to this signing is that rookie running back Justise Hairston is engaged right now in what could be the most important seven to ten days of his rookie season -- with an opportunity to stick with the defending World Champions hanging in the balance.