In an unforeseen move last Sunday, during the club's first wave of cuts, the Chicago Bears released quarterback Matt Blanchard. Of the 15 players released last weekend, Blanchard was the only surprise.
After being signed as an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin-Whitewater following a strong rookie minicamp, Blanchard showed very well in training camp. He started off slow but developed at a rapid pace. His decision-making and poise in the pocket are well beyond his years.
Blanchard clearly has a lot of potential – the Bears saw it but they didn't want anyone else to know. As such, they released him last week, effectively keeping him out of the final week of the preseason. In that way, no other NFL team got another game's worth of tape to evaluate him.
The Miami Dolphins worked him out this week but no other team showed interest. As a result, a player the Bears feel has a lot of promise slipped past the rest of the league, allowing Chicago to sign him to the practice squad (PS).
Before the most-recent CBA, teams were forced to keep three quarterbacks on the roster. That third QB was typically a young, developmental player that learned behind the veterans in front of him. Under the current CBA, clubs can keep just two quarterbacks if they wish. That is the route the Bears took this year, keeping only Jay Cutler and Jason Campbell on the 53-man roster, and using the practice squad to stash their up-and-coming signal caller.
And remember, Blanchard is a proven winner. During his collegiate career, the Warhawks went 25-0 in games he started.
It was a smart move by GM Phil Emery and coach Lovie Smith, keeping a future backup out of the eye of the rest of the league, then sneaking him to the PS and opening up a roster spot on the 53.
And Blanchard wasn't the only player for whom Chicago utilized the practice squad.
After RB Kahlil Bell was waived, a spot opened up for the team's third running back position. The two candidates, Armando Allen and Lorenzo Booker, both performed very well in the preseason finale, each proving he deserves to be on the roster. Allen actually outplayed Booker, who left the game with a head injury, but the team ultimately chose Booker instead.
On the surface, it appears Bears brass feel Booker is the better back. Yet that's not necessarily so. The big difference between the two players is that Allen, a second-year player that was only active for three games last season, is still eligible for the PS. Booker, a four-year veteran, is not.
Neither player was night-and-day better than the other, so the Bears slid Allen to the practice squad, effectively keeping both ball carriers on the team. If injuries mount at running back, like they did last season, the club knows they have Allen, a capable fourth, waiting in the wings.
These aren't groundbreaking maneuvers but they demonstrate Emery's attention to detail and how he thinks through every aspect of this team. He continues to improve the roster on almost a daily basis and smart moves like these keep talent in the pipeline. If Emery continues this meticulous approach, the Bears should be a contender year in and year out.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.