Though general manager Brandon Beane has stressed changes could still be made to the roster before the Bills open their season at the New York Jets on Sept. 11, what’s undeniable is the courage Hamlin has shown in reaching this milestone of his comeback by reclaiming a backup role behind starters Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer.
What began as a national theme of “Prayers For Hamlin” has turned to praise for Hamlin, who put aside hints of trepidation in each step of his recovery.
It’s a journey that’s taken the 25-year-old from being placed in a medically induced coma after going into cardiac arrest and needing to be resuscitated on the field, to returning to the turf to take and deliver hits at full speed during practice and three preseason game appearances in one of North America’s most violent professional sport.
“I made the choice that I wanted to play, you know, it wasn’t nobody else’s choice but mine,” Hamlin said of his approach after a three-tackle outing in Buffalo’s preseason-opening win against Indianapolis three weeks ago. “So, when you see my cleats laced up and my helmet and shoulder pads on, there ain’t gonna be no hesitation.”
“It was real special, like a moment of serendipity, just like life coming full circle for me,” he said following the game in which finished with three more tackles. “It’s just something indescribable.”
Overall, Hamlin finished the preseason with nine solo tackles and one assist while playing 80 defensive snaps and 19 more on special teams.
“From my non-medical standpoint, I think he’s checked all the boxes as far as that goes,” McDermott said. “There’s just been enough of a sample where you’re saying, he’s executed well and come out of that healthy.”
Now the question is how much more playing time he’ll get in returning to a backup role. Hamlin’s extensive playing experience in his second NFL season last year — he had 13 starts — was the result of him filling in after Hyde sustained a season-ending neck injury.
However little or much playing time he sees against the Jets, Hamlin’s recovery will have come full circle in prime-time settings. He was hurt on a Monday night broadcast, and the Bills open on a Monday night in what should be an emotionally charged setting honoring the 22nd anniversary of 9-11.
Hamlin has approached each step of his recovery — from being discharged from the hospital on Jan. 11 to news of doctors clearing him to resume practicing in late April to his first padded practice on July 31 — by focusing on one moment at a time.
To peek too far ahead, he said, would be emotionally overwhelming. At the same time, Hamlin’s not been one to look back, either, while dealing with the nationwide attention he’s attracted.
“I honestly would love to do this whole process under a rock, getting myself together and then pop back out when I feel like my best,” Hamlin once said. “But I think there’s strength in going through a process in front of everybody’s eyes. It shows vulnerability and shows strength, shows perseverance, and that’s things I would love to stand for.”
Backup quarterback Matt Barkley was placed on injured reserve after he hurt his right throwing elbow in a preseason game at Pittsburgh, leaving Kyle Allen as starter Josh Allen’s lone backup. The Bills cut linebacker A.J. Klein, who was competing for the starting middle linebacker job, and veteran long-snapper Reid Ferguson. Klein and Ferguson are candidates to be re-signed by Buffalo.
The Bills also freed up a logjam at defensive end by trading Boogie Basham and a 2025 seventh-round draft pick to the New York Giants for a 2025 sixth-round pick.