When Damar Hamlin put on his pads Monday morning and participated in a full contact practice for the first time since Jan. 2, he felt like he was processing "a thousand emotions" all at once.
There was, however, one emotion in particular that rose above all the others during a day that Hamlin knew would be one of the bigger obstacles on his NFL comeback journey: Thankfulness.
"I'm just thankful," Hamlin said. "I'm just blessed to be able to do what I wanted to do as a kid again, at the highest level, after going through such a traumatic situation. To be able to come out here and compete again at the highest level in the world. That's such a blessing."
After jogging out onto the St. John Fisher University practice field, the Bills safety took a moment to gather himself, looking up at the sky for a moment of prayer and then receiving a word of encouragement from Bills head trainer Nate Breske.
"It's a roller-coaster of emotions. I was kind of all over the place, just kind of being back for the first time. But God don't make no mistakes, you know what I'm saying. I'm on God's timing," Hamlin shared.
Once the air horn went off at 9:45 a.m. to signal the start of practice, it was all systems go for Hamlin and the Bills. From individual work, to multiple 11 on 11 sessions, there was a noticeable uptick in intensity on the day.
For Hamlin, the mental hurdle of readjusting to wearing pads while knowing tackling and contact is fair game is something he is working through and focusing on this week. Players don't wear pads during offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp, so Monday was a significant step in the right direction for Hamlin.
"For me, it was tough. First day in pads," Hamlin said. "But just trying to keep everything as normal as possible. And just having my family here today, that was that joy, that brightness, just to keep everything in perspective that I'm going to be OK."
As Hamlin noted, he had many family members in attendance, including his parents and his younger brother Damir. When practice ended, his family proudly looked on as Bills Mafia clamored for Damar, hoping to get their chance at an autograph or photo.
"Just to have [my family] out there, I'm thinking about moments like that. We overcame a lot my entire life so this is just another milestone on that journey; might be one of the biggest ones," Hamlin shared.
Hamlin has been on the field everyday during training camp, soaking up every minute that he can. For all the work he's put in to get to this point, Hamlin added that he will continue to be motivated every day to improve as a football player and as a person.
"Football teaches you so much about yourself. It teaches you so much about life. You learn so much about yourself through the game. And honestly, what bigger challenge, you know what I mean. It's a challenge. And I'm embracing it," he said.
Observations from Bills' first padded practice
One of the wrinkles in Monday's practice script was extended time for WRs vs. DBs in 1 on 1 drills, as well as multiple 11 on 11 periods for the team. Those sessions produced some of the most memorable sequences of the day.
WR Gabe Davis and CB Tre'Davious White were matched up against each other for much of the day and their battles didn't disappoint. In the 1 on 1 drill, White batted away the intended pass for Davis on the first go-around.
White actually started the 1 on 1 session matched up against Stefon Diggs a few plays earlier and had one of his best reps of the day. The CB ran stride-for-stride with the shifty receiver and broke up a pass from QB Josh Allen that was thrown a tick behind Diggs.
In the full defense vs. offense period during the middle of practice, White started the series by knocking away another pass intended for Davis. Through the first week of camp, it's been easy to spot the increased confidence from White who returned late last season from an ACL injury. The seventh-year veteran looks quicker thus far and hopefully that bodes well for him going into the season.
Josh Allen continued to throw Davis' way, peppering him with three straight completions after White's PBU. Davis got his revenge on White on two of those throws, beating the CB for sizable gains.
Davis' final catch in the series was a head-turning play, literally and figuratively. Allen threaded the needle down the right sideline, zipping the ball past White's head — which was turned away from Allen — and finding the waiting hands of the 6-foot-2 Davis.
Allen had another great deep touchdown throw to Diggs, the second in as many days for the duo, as the WR got past CB Dane Jackson and worked back toward the ball to make the catch and run into the end zone.
Here are some other noteworthy plays from the day:
- WR Deonte Harty showcased his speed in 1 on 1 drills, beating safety Micah Hyde deep for a TD.
- Safety Siran Neal had a solid pass-breakup on WR Khalil Shakir. After initially getting beat on the route, Neal worked back to the ball thrown by QB Kyle Allen and knocked it away.
- RB James Cook's first carry during 11 on 11 was a gashing run down the right sideline for a 30+ yard gain.
- TE Dalton Kincaid made a couple of great catches over the middle of the field during the third 11 on 11 session, both going for 1st downs.
- TE Quintin Morris continued his strong camp with a touchdown grab on a pass from QB Matt Barkley during goal line situations at the end of practice.
- Josh Allen connected with Diggs on a quick throw during goal line drills for a TD. Diggs ran a perfect route to beat DB Taron Johnson.
Scroll to see the best photos from Day Five of Buffalo Bills Training Camp