Entering an NFL camp as undrafted free agent, you are by definition a longshot. Trying to a cement a spot on your hometown team after playing quarterback at a Division III school is near impossible. Matt Blanchard conquered those feats in 2012, but now he has to do it all over again.
The 24-year-old Blanchard stared at Lake Zurich High School in the northern suburbs of Chicago. He was invited to rookie minicamp last season after compiling a 45-0 record in his three-years at UW-Whitewater and finished his collegiate career with a sparkling 44/5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. After impressing the old regime enough in preseason, Blanchard spent the first 12 weeks of the 2012 season on the Bears practice squad.
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Now, Blanchard is in a familiar position. The Bears media guide didn't put Blanchard in the main body of players, he was inserted into 'players with pro experience' which shows he isn't a lock to make the roster.
On Friday night, Blanchard will have the opportunity to impress the new coaching staff and continue the dream as he's slated to play most of the third and the entire fourth quarter.
"I feel like I have a little more experience," Blanchard told CSNChicago.com. "Last year there was a lot of unknown but at least I have some action from last year's preseason to carry into this one and I feel more comfortable with this offense and I'm excited."
Blanchard had his ups and downs in last year's preseason. He was 9-for-16 for 94 yards with four touchdowns, two interceptions and finished with a 47.4 passer rating. The backup's backup knows he has to be more efficient this time around.
"Be efficient, that's really all I'm trying to do," Blanchard said. "With the third group, we want to look as good, as clean and as efficient as possible. I'm not really going out there with a certain mindset other than move the ball and meticulate the ball downfield and hopefully get some points."
Marc Trestman and his offensive staff have liked what they've seen out of Blanchard in training camp. The head coach has talked about his ability to pick up the offense "very quickly" and how easily the ball comes out of his hand. Trestman knows it may get "chaotic" out on the field in Carolina and wants to see his young quarterback's ability to manage the game.
"He’s going to be heavily involved in managing the game, which is not easy to do in those times," Trestman said. "It can get a little chaotic. We want to see him keep his poise, be efficient, and take his time with the football. And really, in those three, the first one’s the most important. The team will trust him, the coaches will trust him, if he can go out there and take care of the football during the time he’s in. And his productivity isn’t as important as his ability to play smart and again do the right thing with the ball."
Blanchard feels the trust the coaching staff has shown in him throughout camp and has adhered to their advice.
"It's been incredible, I mean these guys are just great teachers they really are," Blanchard said. "To be a great coach I feel like you have to be a great teacher and these guys are. I'm just blessed that I'm in the opportunity to be in front of these guys and be a sponge and learn."
Fighting for a spot
One player that's expected to work closely with Blanchard in Friday's game against the Panthers is rookie wide receiver Marquess Wilson.
The 6-foot-3 wideout was once considered a mid-second/third-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. He set the Cougars' all-time receiving record with 3,207 yards and compiled 23 touchdowns.
After being suspended for breaking team rules and then leaving Washington State during his junior season his draft stock plummeted and the Bears took a chance by drafting him in the seventh round.
Now, a more humbled Wilson is fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster.
"It's exciting, not everybody has this opportunity to go out there and play an NFL game," Wilson told CSNChicago.com. "Being able to go get the ball is one thing I've focused on throughout my whole life."
With Earl Bennett out with a concussion, the Bears will give an ample look to Wilson, Joe Anderson, Eric Weems and others. If Bennett's injury keeps him out longer than expected, there will be two wide receiver spots open behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
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Wilson is happy to be given this opportunity and knows you have to be ready at "all times" in Trestman's offense.
"It's amazing, you never know when you're going to get the ball so you have to be ready for it at every single moment and that's a good thing," Wilson said. "The way the ball is thrown around, running and everything."
Blanchard and Wilson have spent the majority of training camp working with each other.
After each practice, the duo sticks around to put in extra work on their timing together so their not "strangers" when they hit in the field in preseason action.
"We spend a lot of time together after practice and in meetings just really trying to build a relationship so that when we get out in the field on Friday or the rest of the preseason we're not strangers," Blanchard said. "He's getting a hold of the offense pretty well. His routes are getting better. He's got great hands, he's catching everything and he and I are getting a good relationship."
Their chemistry was evident in Wednesday's final tune-up. Blanchard targeted Wilson on three consecutive plays in 11-on-11 drills with Wilson hauling in two of those passes.
"He knows when to get the ball out," Wilson said. "We've got close to each other and we've been walking through and everything getting the timing down."
Friday night, the roster hopefuls are confident their chemistry and additional work will translate when they take the field at Bank of America Stadium.