CHENEY, Wash. (AP) – Ken Hamlin watched Seahawks teammate Maurice Mann catch a short pass directly in front of him.

Hamlin, known as “The Hammer” for his hard hits during his first three, feisty seasons, feigned hammering Mann in the non-contact, full-pads drill Monday morning. The safety menacingly lowered his shoulders and stepped toward the reserve receiver, but then backed away.

Mann kept running as if he had eluded the would-be tackle. He then apparently said something that made Hamlin wish he had leveled Mann.

“I’m waiting for someone to talk (smack), Mo! OK?” Hamlin said, his voice bellowing across the practice field.

That’s not all Hamlin’s been waiting for.

He waited nine, life-altering months for Monday. It was Hamlin’s first day in full uniform since two still-at-large suspects fractured his skull, bruised his brain tissue and created a blood clot near his brain during a brutal October street fight outside a downtown Seattle bar.

“I have a chip on my shoulder because I have things to prove for myself,” the 25-year-old Hamlin said after finishing the milestone practice.

His biggest hit was falling on top of tight end Mike Gomez after Hamlin deflected a pass.

“I usually don’t take big hits on my teammates anyway,” Hamlin said with a straight face.

His first true tackle may not come until Saturday, when the team has a scrimmage that coach Mike Holmgren said “will be just like a game.”

“It’d be like a guy coming off a bad knee injury, the first hit and how he responds to things,” Holmgren said. “My feeling is he’ll be just fine – but I’ve got to admit we’re waiting for that first big collision.”

The hardest hit of his life came in the early morning of Oct. 17.

Seattle police reported two men beat Hamlin with at least a forearm and, according to one witness, a metallic street sign after a bar altercation moved outside. Police spokesman Rich Pruitt said recently the investigation remains open. No arrests have been made, largely because very few witnesses who were in the crowded street just after the bar’s closing will talk.

Hamlin spent six days in a hospital, three in the intensive care unit.

Seahawks teammates who visited him in those first days came back visibly shaken.

“I mean, he was in a situation where he had the potential to die,” fellow safety Michael Boulware said. “That was a very, very hard time, a very emotional time for our team.”

Trying to sit up in his hospital bed made Hamlin’s room seem to spin around him. Merely staying conscious for more than a few minutes at a time was a good day. Eating solid foods was a great day.

So was Monday. Did it remind Hamlin how lucky he is now?

“I think about that every day,” he said, solemnly.

Hamlin is also fortunate to be playing for one of the pioneering NFL teams in head injury management.

Seattle proactive testing of players’ brain functioning dates over a decade, according to the NFL’s top consultant on head trauma, the University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Mark Lovell.

Lovell is the league’s director of neuropsychological testing. He said Seahawks team physician Stan Herring, who rushed to Hamlin’s bedside almost immediately after he arrived at the hospital, is a rehabilitation doctor by trade.

“So he is more trained in brain rehabilitation than most guys,” on NFL team medical staffs, Lovell said. “They’ve always done careful and informed testing.”

So while Hamlin slipped in and out of consciousness, Herring and the Seahawks dived into their specialty. And as they continued to test Hamlin’s memory and cognitive recovery, the Seahawks had their baseline test results on Hamlin’s normal brain functioning – gathered prior to the assault – for comparison with the new results.

Once those results began resembling the old ones, Hamlin was cleared for practice.

“One of the reasons we do testing is so we can make sure everything has healed,” Lovell said by phone from Pittsburgh. “A guy can look healed from an X-ray, CAT scan or MRI, but you don’t know.”

The fact he is lucky to be playing for the heady Seahawks was news to Hamlin.

“No, I don’t study that,” he said. “I didn’t know that until you just told me.”

Hamlin got some ribbing on his first day in pads. He dropped an interception in the end zone on a pass that linebacker Lofa Tatupu deflected to him.

“He’s moving awfully well,” Holmgren said. “I teased him, I said I guess your hand-eye coordination is the last thing that comes back,’ since he dropped a couple passes.

“Then I realized, ‘Wait a minute, you didn’t have great hands before you got hurt.”‘

AP-ES-07-31-06 2010EDT


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