Sean McDermott had barely begun speaking to Nathan Peterman during their January postseason meeting when the rookie quarterback presented the first-year Buffalo Bills coach with a detailed road map for his offseason.
"[Peterman] had a whole list of things -- what he was doing, when he was doing it and his plan for the offseason and his growth, which I think is phenomenal for a young player," McDermott told the team's radio program last Wednesday.
Some of McDermott's most glowing comments last week at the NFL combine were about Peterman, a fifth-round pick last April who has seemed to emerge as one of McDermott's star pupils despite a rocky rookie season.
One of six draft selections made by McDermott and former general manager Doug Whaley -- who was fired almost immediately after the draft -- Peterman is most known on the national stage for taking over for a benched Tyrod Taylor last Nov. 19. Peterman threw five interceptions to the Los Angeles Chargers before being benched himself at halftime. It was one of two starts Peterman made last season, the other coming during an intense snowstorm on Dec. 10 when a knee injury prevented Taylor from playing against the Indianapolis Colts.
According to Elias Sports Bureau research, Peterman's five interceptions in a 54-24 loss to the Chargers were the most in the first half of any game since at least the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. McDermott's decision to start Peterman came under scrutiny, and as a late-round draft pick, Peterman's NFL career seemed destined to be defined by the performance.
Not so fast, McDermott insists.
"He's not a guy that's going to go away," McDermott told the Bills' radio program last week. "Just when you look at what he's gone through at Tennessee, and then going to Pitt, facing some adversity and having won at Pitt. From a leadership standpoint, how he's developed through that. That's part of the DNA of the guy we drafted."
Peterman, who began his college career at Tennessee, was benched for Joshua Dobbs during the 2014 season. Peterman later transferred to Pittsburgh, where he played for two different offensive coordinators in two seasons.
"I still have a lot of confidence in Nate," McDermott continued. "And I'm anxious to watch his growth and the way he comes back and the way he handles this offseason. He's wired in such a way that he's only going to learn and get better from those experiences."
As the NFL calendar approaches the start of free agency next week and the draft next month, there is little clarity about the Bills' plans at quarterback. Both McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane said last week that releasing Taylor is not in their immediate plans, but both stressed they are looking at their options.
Where does that leave Peterman? Beane suggested last week Peterman could be in the mix to start, even if Taylor remains with the team.
"Right now Nathan and Tyrod are on our roster," Beane told WHLD-AM 1270 The Fan. "That’s where we’re at. We are doing our due diligence in both free agency and the draft. We could very well see both [quarterbacks] go to training camp with us and compete to start next year."
It seems almost certain Peterman will be on the Bills' roster next season, as pulling the plug after one year would not be a good look for McDermott and his initial draft class. However, it also seems highly unlikely the Bills would enter 2018 with Peterman as the center of their plans at quarterback.
Peterman has much to prove and would almost certainly begin next season considered the NFL's worst quarterback if called upon to start. His 35.9 passer rating ranked 55th in the NFL last season out of 56 quarterbacks, and his interception-per-pass attempt rate of 20.8 percent is third worst to only Kyle Boller (21.4 percent in 2011) and Todd Collins (25 percent in 2010) among the 541 single-season quarterback performances in the NFL over the past 10 seasons.
McDermott envisions something better from Peterman. The coach praised the young quarterback's maturity and poise late last season, noting how the 23-year-old has "a set of core values" and "great support" from his family and wife.
"Like most players and like our team really, I thought Nathan had some good moments and some moments he would like back," McDermott said last week. "He's an extremely confident young man and a guy that works hard. Sometimes as a rookie, in this case as a rookie quarterback, you're thrust out in a situation where everyone sees your body of work.
"I know his second year will be better than his first year and I thought he did some really good things in that first year. When you look at the DNA, he's a fit for us in that regard."