ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — What was once routine for Damar Hamlin, such as pulling on a helmet and heading out to practice, has become something the Buffalo Bills safety celebrated with a phone call to his parents.
That was the case last week, general manager Brandon Beane said on Tuesday, after Hamlin participated fully in practice for the first time in the six months since having a near-death experience during a game at Cincinnati.
“Just so proud of him and thrilled for where he’s at in his journey,” Beane said.
“He’s still got more milestones to hit. But to think back, we’re just at the beginning of June, and that was the beginning of January, and we were just hoping he’d live,” he added. “Now he’s not only got a normal life, but we’re talking about playing not just any football, but NFL football.”
The Bills practice on Tuesday was the first in which reporters were allowed to see Hamlin don his helmet and take part in various team drills. Beane said, Hamlin enjoyed his first full session on May 31, in a practice that was closed to reporters, after which the player called his parents in Pittsburgh.
Hamlin had previously been limited to taking part in individual drills and the stretching portions of practice since the Bills’ series of spring voluntary sessions opened on May 22. The 25-year-old has made it his objective to resume his football career after going into cardiac arrest and needing to be resuscitated on the field after making what appeared to be a routine tackle during a game against the Bengals on Jan. 2.
The frightening collapse led to the game being eventually canceled by the NFL, and had Hamlin spending 10 days recovering and being monitored in hospitals in Cincinnati and Buffalo. The third-year player was fully cleared to resume playing in April, and has spent much of the past two months working out at the team’s facility.
On Tuesday, Hamlin appeared upbeat by happily waving to the cameras pointed at him during pre-practice stretching drills.
Soon after, he served as a punt protector in several special team periods and then took the field with the defense, in which he made a touch tackle in what are non-contact sessions.
At one point, Hamlin fell to the field while attempting to make a play on the ball, and stayed down for a moment, while trainers tended to his right shoulder. Hamlin eventually resumed practicing.
“I’m good,” Hamlin told The Associated Press as he walked off the field.
“It’s an amazing story,” Beane said.
With Buffalo completing its spring practices with a three-day mandatory minicamp next week, the next step in Hamlin’s comeback won’t come until the Bills begin practicing in pads during full-contact sessions in training camp, which is set to open in late July.
“He’s worked really hard on the mental side of this. Physically, he’s all cleared. But this is a real deal from a mental standpoint after you’ve been to where he was,” Beane said. “We’ll continue to ramp him up with helmets on, but that’ll probably be the next big hurdle for him, tackling.”
He added Hamlin is working in consultation with team trainers in determining when to ramp up his practice routine.
“This is a two-way communication. This is not us saying, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Beane said.