Jordan Matthews takes pride in being there for his team.
The Buffalo Bills' newest wide receiver has played in 46 of a possible 48 games the past three seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles. So when he was hurt on the very first play the ball came his way during his first practice with his new team, Matthews was in denial.
"It’s extremely frustrating because I’ve been consistent in my career – with being at practice, being there for my team, not missing games and everything," he said. "I was in disbelief. That’s why I finished the whole practice because I was like ‘there’s no way I just hurt myself my first day as a Bill, just not possible.’ When I got done with practice I realized my chest and arms started stiffening up a little bit. At that point I kind of knew."
The diagnosis was a chip fracture in his sternum, an injury that has him classified as "week to week" but doesn't accurately describe the pain involved. In the days after he was hurt, any activity that involved using his upper body caused a significant amount of pain.
"There was a funny movie that came out and I didn’t go see it because I was like ‘I don’t want to laugh right now.’ I knew it was going to hurt," Matthews said. "It’s something that you have to monitor in that aspect. Breathing has gotten better; the hardest part is sneezing and coughing. ... For the most part, the regular things in life are getting a little bit easier, and that’s why I’m extremely excited about it."
Matthews' recovery took a step forward Sunday as he participated in some individual drills during practice, catching passes with a helmet on while the rest of his teammates were in pads.
"The thing that gave me confidence about it moving forward was that I was able to finish practice," Matthews said, referring back to when he was injured during a training camp practice at St. John Fisher College on Aug. 13. "If it was an injury, where I immediately had to stop, and they would have just had to take me off and I was done, I would have been way more worried. But because of the nature of the injury and what happened afterwards, I felt confident that I’d be able to make a good recovery."
Matthews' injury is an uncommon one in football. One of the doctors who treated him said the only other time he had seen it was when a hockey player got hit by a stick.
"It’s definitely a unique injury," Matthews said. "I’m a person that believes that all these types of things happen for a reason, so it must have been because I needed more time to get acclimated to the playbook, get to know the guys. Even though it was unfortunate, it gave me a chance to get in my playbook and learn the Buffalo environment a little bit, without having the add-on of having to practice, and physically go out there and perform.
"Obviously, I’m a competitor, I want to get back out there. I was excited to get back out there a little bit and run around. I’m really looking forward to getting back out there and playing."
Matthews said he is "extremely confident" that will happen by Week One of the regular season.
"I had an injury last preseason, unfortunately, it kept me out some time when I was with the Eagles, but I was able to come back Week One and have a very productive game," he said. "I know how to take mental reps, I know how to stay in shape, and I know how to make sure that I’m on top of the playbook."
That doesn't lessen the sting of missing time right now, though, Matthews said.
"I want to go out there and prove myself to my teammates," he said. "I want them to know that I’m tough. I want them to know that I’m not the type of guy that wants to miss practice, and just be here for games."
While Matthews didn't entirely close the door on the possibility of appearing in one of the Bills' final two preseason games, it's clear the focus for all parties is the Sept. 10 season opener against the New York Jets.
"They’re going to want to feel comfortable and confident that I’m going to be able to out there and not only perform, but also come out healthy," he said. "It’s a game that doesn’t count, essentially. It still matters, it just doesn’t count. So, if a game doesn’t count toward your record, obviously, the coaches, the training staff and me included, we all have to be smart about it."
Coach Sean McDermott followed though on his plan to have officials work practice following two preseason games in which the Bills have been hit with a whopping 34 penalties called against them, with 25 of those accepted for 237 yards.
"We welcome their presence," McDermott said. "Appreciate their help. They’re some local guys willing to help us out here, and that should be good for us."
Center Eric Wood explained the benefits of having officials working practice.
"You’re constantly being reminded," he said. "You’re being yelled at by the coaches and then you also see that yellow flag on the ground, so it can help. Ultimately, as players, we’ve got to get it fixed and just be smart in certain situations."
Not practicing for the Bills on Sunday were: wide receiver Jeremy Butler (concussion), safety Colt Anderson (foot), wide receiver Rod Streater (toe), safety Trae Elston (hamstring), offensive tackle Michael Ola (toe) and left tackle Cordy Glenn (foot). Right tackle Jordan Mills (ankle) and linebacker Tanner Vallejo (knee) were listed as limited participants. Matthews was listed as not participating despite doing some light work mentioned above.
With Glenn still being listed as week to week, McDermott said rookie second-round draft pick Dion Dawkins will practice more at left tackle.
"Just so we're ready," McDermott said. "We're again, cautiously optimistic about Cordy. Having said that, we want to make sure we're moving in a direction that if we need to ... execute with Dion on the left side, we're able to do that as well. Just being cautious and having a well-thought out plan really with respect to the contingency part of it."
The team is still monitoring Streater's toe injury, which he suffered Thursday night against the Eagles and necessitated him being carted off the field.
"We’re weighing our options at this point, and that’s just going to take some time," McDermott said.
The Bills made a pair of transactions Sunday, in the process ending two roster battles.
Rookie undrafted free agent Austin Rehkow was released, which makes it seem like the team will go into the 2017 season with Stephen Hauschka at kicker and Colton Schmidt at punter. Rehkow handled both jobs in training camp, but Hauschka and Schmidt have performed well this summer.
Additionally, the Bills designated tight end Jason Croom as waived/injured. He has been out with an ankle injury.
The two open rosters spots were filled by tight end Rory Anderson and safety Adrian McDonald. Anderson is a former seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 who played in college at South Carolina. McDonald was an undrafted free agent signing by the San Diego Chargers in 2016. He spent last year on the Chargers' practice squad, but was released last week. He holds the University of Houston's school record with 17 interceptions.