When the Buffalo Bills acquired possession wide receiver Jordan Matthews from the Philadelphia Eagles in the Ronald Darby trade, the thought was Matthews would immediately step in and lead the Bills’ receiving corps as quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s No. 1 target. Instead he has been hurt since his first practice.
Former first-round draft pick Sammy Watkins’ departure via trade to the Los Angeles Rams essentially opened the door for the Matthews for Darby swap, and Bills fans were eager to see how quickly Matthews and Taylor would establish a connection in offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s offense, which places heavy emphasis on quick throws and the horizontal passing game.
Matthews had enjoyed more productivity than Watkins (purely on numbers) as a second-round pick out of Vanderbilt, hauling in 225 passes for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns in 46 career games with the Eagles.
However, Matthews suffered a chip fracture in his sternum during his very first practice with the Bills (Aug. 13) and has yet to take even one snap in a preseason game with Taylor as his quarterback.
Despite their lack of playing time on the field, Matthews isn’t worried about building that on-field chemistry with Taylor and the rest of his new teammates. Matthews told Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com he is “extremely confident” he’ll be on the field when the Bills host the New York Jets at 1 p.m. Sept. 10 at New Era Field in the 2017 season opener.
"I had an injury last preseason. Unfortunately it kept me out of some time when I was with the Eagles, but I was able to come back Week 1 and I had a very productive game," said Matthews, who compared the chip fracture injury to a rib injury, where any kind of sudden movement or motion in his upper body leads to quick bouts of pain.
"I know how to take mental reps," continued Matthews. "I know how to stay in shape and I know how to stay on top of the playbook. Obviously it's a totally different scenario. I had been with the Eagles for a long time. This scenario is different. I've only been with the Bills for a little while. I want to go out there and prove myself to my teammates. I want them to know I'm tough. I want them to know I'm not the type of guy who wants to miss practice. So I want to be there before that, but I'm extremely confident that I will be able to play for Week 1."
Matthews is listed by first-year head coach Sean McDermott as week-to-week, but on Sunday, Matthews was spotted catching passes and doing running exercises as he attempts to recover from this injury. Matthews told Brown the pain in his sternum is getting more manageable with each passing day.
"It's more pain management," he said. "Let's get the pain down and get all functional movement back and then when it's just that one spot hurting, let's protect that spot and go play football."
"I'm a competitor and I want to get back out there," he said. "So 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."
With veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin’s unexpected retirement from football coming Sunday, the Bills are counting on a healthy Matthews to work alongside rookie wide receiver Zay Jones and veterans Andre Holmes, Brandon Tate, Philly Brown, and Rod Streater to give Taylor the best chance to execute Dennison’s offensive scheme.
There are many similarities between the Bills offensive philosophy and the west coast-based offense Matthews has performed in during his three years in Philadelphia. Matthews told Brown he has learned a lot from Taylor simply by having his locker next to Taylor’s in Buffalo’s locker room, and that he fully understands the Bills’ playbook.
While he hasn’t returned to practice as a full participant, Matthews said he’s making progress in his fight to get back on the field and make a good impression with his new teammates. Matthews acknowledged he has to be careful not to rush his recovery from the injury: even the slightest awkward movement could cause Matthews to experience shooting pains.
"It doesn't take somebody hitting me in my chest for it to flare up," Matthews said. "It's any type of movement where I really have to use my upper body. So right now we're trying to get back into running, using regular arm motion and getting functional movement down. Once I can get that down, get that blood flow and that healing and the pain is more centrally located to just the sternum I'll know it's time to move on, get something to protect it and let's go play football."