untung99.biz: Whats next for Buffalo Bills Damar Hamlin ESPN

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. — As Damar Hamlin jogged onto the field at Highmark Stadium, he let out a yell. The cheers of Buffalo Bills fans seemed to get louder as he picked up speed.

While thousands watched from the stands, Hamlin was full of emotions — later sharing he cried multiple times during Friday night’s Return of Blue and Red practice.

About seven months ago, Hamlin was watching the Bills in the playoffs from an unfamiliar place — in a suite above the field, just weeks after suffering cardiac arrest during a January prime-time game.

Now, as preparations for the 2023 kick into overdrive, he’s playing football once again.

“Just walking out [to practice] on the field, that was one of the biggest moments as well. So much energy just flowed out,” Hamlin said Friday. “I didn’t know how it was going to go. I didn’t know how I was going to react, you know, but I got so much love for the game and love for the sport. You learn so much about yourself and about life through playing this game.”

After a spring and summer spent in part giving back in the form of promoting CPR training and distributing automated external defibrillators, he was back to the normal rhythm of training camp. Hamlin’s football routine has become perhaps one of the more normal things remaining in his life.

“Sometimes it’s like normal don’t exist. But it’s a blessed space. It’s a super blessed space,” Hamlin said to reporters after his first padded practice last Monday. “… My dad has been preaching like, just trying to make everything as normal as possible, but, as far as my situation, it’s a unique situation. And I have to, you know, I will live with that forever. I’ll sit with that forever.

“But I tried to keep things as normal as possible. Like I said, I wish I could do this process under a rock … just to myself and pop out whenever I felt like I was super, super-duper ready to be a Pro Bowler. But I think there’s power in being out here every day and doing my process in front of the world.”

In front of the world has meant the little moments have become news events. It was a big deal when Hamlin took the field at the stadium and earlier in the week for his first padded practice since late December.

“[The first day in pads was a] super big hurdle as you can imagine, like, I pretty much lost my life playing this sport,” Hamlin said last week. “So, to come back and do it all over again, it’s all over the place. I’m rooted in my faith. I’m rooted in the love that I receive from my family, my teammates and the love all around the world. That keeps me going and I’ve got goals that I still want to achieve within this game.”

Hamlin, 25, has fully participated in the Bills’ four days of padded practices this training camp, his third season in the league. The 2021 sixth-round pick has been practicing since early June during OTAs, but initially Hamlin was working without a helmet and was only taking part in some activities. He started wearing the helmet in the middle of June, and he’s been a full participant in practices open to the media since.

His most eye-catching play in camp came when quarterback Matt Barkley threw a pass during drills — arguably after the whistle blew — and Hamlin caught the ball as he went to the ground. He was then touched down but continued to run the ball back toward the end zone and celebrated with teammates.

“Extremely courageous. Great to see him get that interception the other day …” coach Sean McDermott said. “Every day continues to amaze us.”

Hamlin has also delivered some big hits, like when he ran up in the box to meet running back Damien Harris, leading to a loud pop.

After Monday’s non-padded practice, he spent time working on some movements, backpedaling on his own in the middle of the field, before signing autographs for fans.

The safety has continued the approach he said was required for playing football — “no hesitation” on the field. He has made tackles, worked on special teams and played football as he normally would. During the stadium practice and others, the Bills rotated in defenders and he had opportunities with the first-team defense.

“Every time you see him, you can’t do nothing but smile,” wide receiver Khalil Shakir told ESPN. “Whenever we step out there and I see him running out and the crowd gets excited, I can’t help myself, but clap too, so it’s definitely a lot of love towards him.”

What’s next for Hamlin on the field? The starting lineup at safety is set. The Bills boast the longest active safety duo in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, who are healthy and set to start their seventh season together. The Bills acquired safety Tayler Rapp this offseason who has shown off his versatility in camp and filled in for Poyer when the veteran had a rest day during camp. So Hamlin is battling for a backup spot with the likes of veteran Dean Marlowe.

“There’s really only one person that’s ever gone through this and that’s him,” defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator John Butler said. “That’s his process and him feeling comfortable getting back out there and then us doing a good job as coaches and organizationally just kind of building him up for that. And then I think he did a great job [Monday]. I’m sure he’s still battling and fighting and scratching to get himself where he needs to be mentally and physically.”

Last season, Hamlin started 13 games in place of Hyde, who suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 2. During Hamlin’s rookie year, he played in 14 games behind Hyde and Poyer, largely playing special teams (35.4% of snaps).

Special teams involve some of the most dangerous plays in the game. Putting Hamlin out for those plays may not be a decision the team wants to make, but it’s an area where many backup players use to help find a roster spot.

Hamlin and the team are handling his future on a day-by-day basis. While he’s been physically cleared, the hurdles and challenges ahead for him are plentiful.

“Right now my goal is just one day at a time, even my big goals,” Hamlin said. “Honestly, I can’t even focus on those right now, so my goal is just one day at a time just coming out and practice focusing on one period, one second, one play, one step at a time honestly. My big goals I can’t even mention them right now because I’ll be in the wrong headspace even thinking about them, thinking that far down the line …

“My mindset right now is just being ready for the Buffalo Bills whenever they need me.”