CLEMSON - Chris Hairston limped into the training room at 6 a.m. Monday, reporting for the first of three scheduled visits for electro-stimulation and ice treatments on his left knee.
Clemson's junior left tackle joked that his rehabilitation program for a sprained MCL boils down to having as many of these treatments as possible.
While most MCL sprains sideline players for a few weeks, Hairston hopes to avoid skipping any games, regardless of their implications (or lack thereof) on the ACC picture. But he admitted his push to return for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game against No. 15 TCU certainly isn't hurt by the Tigers' matchup with Horned Frogs defensive end Jerry Hughes, the nation's leader in sacks last season.
"You don't get that opportunity to play a great player, a consensus All-American guy, any time," Hairston said.
How much time Hairston can play Saturday - if at all - figures to become clearer as the week progresses.
Hairston did not practice Monday and said doctors planned to re-evaluate him today. He and tackles coach Danny Pearman have identified Wednesday's practice as the target date for deciding Hairston's Saturday's fate.
"He's obviously going to need to be able to practice some to be effective against a good player like that," Pearman said. "(We're) just going to have wait and see how it is every day and then go from there. For us to predict the future on an injury, that's hard for us to do on a Monday."
It's also hard to imagine the Tigers wouldn't wait until game-time to rule Hairston out considering their lack of depth at tackle and the struggles of their other veterans.
While Hughes usually tends to line up over right tackle, Clemson planned to shift Hairston to the right side - a move the Tigers made at halftime of the Georgia Tech game two weeks ago to effectively neutralize end Derrick Morgan, who had three first-half sacks against the Tigers.
Pearman said Clemson will have "several plans in place" to cope with Hughes, a 6-foot-3, 257-pound senior who has 4.5 sacks in victories against Virginia and Texas State.
Redshirt sophomore Landon Walker will remain the first-string right tackle to start the week, with fellow redshirt sophomore David Smith getting a crash course at backup tackle after switching from right guard last week.
Senior Cory Lambert, a game removed from losing the right-tackle job because of his breakdowns against Morgan, will fill Hairston's left tackle vacancy. Senior Jamarcus Grant is slated to back up Lambert - presuming he gets over a 102-degree fever he came down with Saturday.
"Something goes wrong, that's why somebody else has an opportunity, that's the way you have to look at it," Pearman said. "You challenge these guys and see if they rise to the opportunity and give their best effort."