The Chicago Bears brought in roughly 20 players to rookie minicamp this offseason to fill the practice roster. A few of those players impressed the coaching staff enough to earn an invitation to training camp. Of those invitees, quarterback Matt Blanchard was arguably the most impressive of the undrafted rookies in Bourbonnais.
The youngster out of Wisconsin-Whitewater – who went undefeated as a starter in college – showed poise beyond his years. The Bears were so enamored with Blanchard that they waived him a week before final cuts, so that no other NFL teams could get a good look at him in the preseason finale. The next week, they signed him to the practice squad.
"When Cutler went down last week it was a learning experience for me. What I got out of that, watching Jason get ready and go out there in a matter of seconds, is that as a backup quarterback, you have to be completely ready to take over all of the time.
"I was definitely impressed by Jason. Although he only played a play or two, I could see that he never relaxed from that point on. He was pacing the sidelines, talking to Jay, meeting with the coaches. He was confident, completely up to speed and ready to go if his services were needed again.
"Luckily, Jay was able to continue. He's one tough guy. His entire performance after the hit certainly taught me a lot. You go on playing when you aren't 100 percent physically. Your team is depending on you, so you do what you need to do to stay out there on the field.
"Since Cutler's injury, Jason has been taking the majority of snaps on the practice squad. Usually I am out there during practice as well but it makes sense that he is doing it this week. I watch and I try to pick up as much as I can as far as his technique.
"Backup isn't a position that I've had a lot of experience with. I started in high school and in college. But I can see there is a technique involved when you are the backup. You have to learn to stay mentally in the game at all times because you never know whey you'll be called on to perform. You have to know what you are doing out there and convey that confidence to the team.
"When I am not working with our practice team, I have what I call little projects that the coaches have assigned me. There's a lot of time involved getting that stuff done. I guess to me, it's like studying for finals in college. You get the books; you do your homework.
"This is all part of the maturation process for a young quarterback in the NFL. I'm happy to put in the time on that. I'll do anything they ask me to because I know that what I'm doing now will have a tremendous effect on my development as a player.
"Physically I'm feeling good. Bye week was a good chance to leave football behind for a day or two. I also try to catch rest after practice whenever I can. I think if I were still in college, this would be our week 12. We'd be about ready to pack it up for the year. Here we're only a little past halfway. There's a long road ahead and I want to be ready for that.
"What I find difficult is to put football behind me mentally when I am not at Soldier Field or Halas Hall. Most of the vets say that is no problem for them. They do their jobs, work hard, then go home and concentrate on other things. I find that I think about football pretty much 24/7. It's never far from my mind.
"The ironic part is the less I play, the more I think about different aspects of the game. I'm trying to work out how I would handle various situations on the field.
"Of course I have limited experience in the NFL, but from what I've seen so far, this is an ideal situation for a rookie. There are no big egos. There is no hazing. It's very calm and relaxed all of the time. Rookies feel accepted as equals. The vets do anything they can to help us. I think just being able to relax and feel that support is extremely important. We can concentrate on football and not worry about watching our backs.
"This season has been exciting and fascinating. I've seen some great quarterbacks play close up. Working with Jason and Jay has been a valuable experience. They never hesitate to answer my questions. And for the Bears to have a record of 5-1? I feel like the luckiest rookie in the NFL."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.