The Buffalo Bills don't know for sure who will be throwing the ball in their Sept. 10 season-opener against the New York Jets.
They're more confident in knowing who will be available to make catches.
Coach Sean McDermott said Tuesday the Bills are "still cautiously optimistic" that wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who hasn't played or fully practiced since suffering a chip fracture of his sternum in his first workout with the team on Aug. 13, will be ready to play in the opener.
"In saying that, he's not full-go yet, he's not full-contact yet," McDermott said. "That said, we like the direction he's going. I think Jordan's had the right mindset, the right approach. I love his energy and he's developing good rapport with the quarterbacks."
Matthews, who joined the Bills in the trade that sent cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles, is less cautious about his status for the opener. He fully expects to play, while wearing a special shirt under his jersey that has extra chest padding that he said already protected him well while "catching a bullet" from Tyrod Taylor.
"(Tuesday's) practice, I probably would have got the same amount of (minimal) volume (of work), because the ones weren't going to do a lot," Matthews said. "We're getting all the guys that are going for that (preseason game against Detroit) Thursday ready. ... This actually is a time where, me as a starter, we would have some off, some time to rest our bodies, regardless.
"So, going into this practice and going into a little bit last week, I was already pretty much doing everything that the coaches have asked me to do. It was just, their biggest thing was, 'Hey, be careful going to the ground.' That's it."
Matthews said he isn't feeling much pain, other than when he wakes up after a night's sleep.
"My range of motion, for the most part, has come completely back," he said. "I've never had an injury like this before and what's crazy is I don't think a lot of athletes have. (The Bills') trainers said it's a weird injury. (One of them) said he'd only seen it like twice in all his years of being a trainer. He said the other time was when a hockey player took a hockey stick to the chest.
"It's definitely a unique injury, but if you're going to sustain any kind of injury in the preseason, I think, as much as it hurt, this is the type you want to have because it's not arms, it's not anything that's going to hurt me catching, it's not anything that's going to hurt me running. It's just something that you just have to manage the pain with."
Meanwhile, two of the four quarterbacks on the team, Taylor and third-stringer T.J. Yates, remain in concussion protocol. That left rookie Nathan Peterman and newly signed Keith Wenning as the only available QBs for Tuesday's practice.
Veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams missed his second consecutive workout with what the team said was "personal reasons," which McDermott also cited in excusing Williams for Sunday's session.
Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus returned to practice Tuesday after being sidelined with a hip issue.
How long will Taylor and Yates, each of whom suffered a concussion in last Saturday night's preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, be kept out of practice and games? The Bills have no clue.
"Very little information flows out of that," McDermott said. "We just respect what's going on there. They're in the protocol, and that's basically the information I get every day."
The Bills are planning to play Wenning and, perhaps, Peterman in Thursday night's preseason-finale against the Detroit Lions at New Era Field.
They would clearly prefer to give Wenning most, if not all, of the action because of the distinct possibility of Peterman starting in the season-opener.
"A lot of it just depends on how quickly Keith gets up to speed," the coach said. "It's a short week, so there's a challenge. But Keith's been in the system before, in Baltimore (during his rookie year in 2014, when Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison was the Ravens' quarterbacks coach). And that was the main attraction with Keith.
"He's a good football player, so look forward to seeing him in action Thursday night. How much remains to be seen. The balance of Nate and Keith are what we're driving at right now for Thursday night."
McDermott acknowledged he and his coaching staff are giving a great deal of thought to minimizing Peterman's exposure to injury.
"It's something we need to stay on top of and get the best feel we can with respect to Tyrod and T.J. and how that affects Week One," the coach said. "So we have to monitor that very closely."
Preseason or not, asking Wenning to prepare to quarterback a game on such short notice is asking a lot, even if he does have a basic understanding of the offense.
"It’s tough," Wenning told reporters Tuesday, after his first practice with his new team. "I know a couple people here, that’s about it, some guys I’ve been on other teams with. Coach Dennison, his offense, I’m pretty familiar with.
"That’s been the biggest thing, as long as I know the plays, I know how to run the offense, I’m comfortable. But as far as knowing the tendencies of the receivers and linemen, and the linemen hearing my cadence and stuff like that, that’s the tough part. (Tuesday) was a big step in practice. I felt like I had a good practice, was able to throw it around a little bit and get a feel for some of the receivers and the running backs."
Wenning understands there's still more he must do and time is hardly on his side. The Bills are only scheduled to have a walk-through practice Wednesday.
"I know (Wednesday) will be another day. Thursday I’ll have to do my best. ... I’m just going to take it one play at a time, one series at a time, trust the guys around me, know that they’ll do their job, and try to do my best."
Reggie Ragland was a bad fit in the Bills' defense. That's undeniable.
At 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, he was built to be an inside linebacker who could fill gaps and make plays near the line of scrimmage in a 3-4 base defense -- the one the Bills were playing when they drafted him.
In the 4-3 base that McDermott employs, Ragland was a bit out of his element, but Preston Brown wasn't. In fact, the 6-1, 251-pound Brown -- who has changed his diet and intensified his workouts to be in top condition -- has thrived through the preseason, showing the sort of quickness and athleticism that are perfect for the scheme.
And, according to McDermott, it was Brown's performance that did the most to convince the Bills to trade Ragland to the Kansas City Chiefs Monday for a fourth-round draft pick in 2019. The Chiefs employ a 3-4 base defense.
"I think it was more, in this case, what Preston Brown did," McDermott said. "Preston Brown has had a great camp. He has proven himself as a starting middle linebacker for us. I like the way the defense is playing and so it’s more of what Preston did, rather than what Reggie didn’t do in this case."
The coach acknowledged that there was some thought put into the fact the Bills own the Chiefs' 2018 first-round pick, which they acquired last April in the trade to move down in the round to select cornerback Tre'Davious White, and could potentially cause the choice to be lower than it might have been otherwise.
"That’s a fair question," McDermott said. "That’s always the, as you evaluate a trade and where you come out on a positive or negative side, that’s always part of the computation, so to speak. You look at that (and) you have to look at it from every different angle. We did that.
"We just, again, felt like it was right for us at this time and right for Reggie at the same time."
Safety Bacarri Rambo was among six players released by the Bills Tuesday, the first set of moves in advance of reducing their roster to 53 by Saturday's NFL deadline.
Rambo had two stints with the Bills. He joined them as a free agent in 2014 and remained with them through 2015, during which he helped them beat the New York Jets by forcing two fumbles (one of which was returned for a touchdown) and recovering one himself. Rambo spent part of the 2016 season with the Miami Dolphins, and rejoined the Bills last July.
Also cut Tuesday were guard Karim Barton, defensive end Jake Metz, running back Cedric O'Neal, cornerback Jumal Rolle, and wide receiver Rashad Ross.
That leaves the Bills with 83 players on their roster. With offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson and wide receiver Walt Powell facing suspensions at the start of the season, they need to make 28 more cuts to get to 53.