Matt Blanchard thought his career might be over.
While battling to make Carolina’s roster as a backup quarterback, he took off scrambling during a preseason game at New England. His head bounced off the Gillett Stadium turf and everything “went black.” A concussion landed him on injured reserve. He couldn’t drive for six weeks and did almost no physical activity for 11 weeks. The Panthers released him on Dec. 9, which gave Blanchard plenty of time to consider his future.
Would he get another shot in the NFL? Or maybe more importantly, would he even want another shot in the NFL? “Oh, yeah, you have those conversations with your family and my wife,” Blanchard said at the conclusion of the Green Bay Packers’ minicamp on Thursday. “We talked and if things obviously didn’t get better, then maybe we’d decide to retire or you don’t play anymore. But things got better and the more I got into training, the better I felt. That drive, that hunger, that love for the game, it doesn’t go away. You want to get back out there and play. Thankfully, things worked out here for the Packers.”
With his vision back to normal, the headaches gone and that competitive fire burning as strongly as ever, Blanchard got back to work. There was little interest from around the league, though. Doubts began to enter his mind. Not whether he had the talent to be an NFL quarterback but whether he’d get the opportunity.
“Sure, I don’t think I’d be human if those thoughts don’t creep into your mind a little bit but you’ve got to stay strong in your faith and stay strong in what you truly believe, and that was that I’d get another shot. It’s staying ready for that opportunity,” Blanchard said.
Finally, the Packers brought him for a workout on April 9 that did more than just go well.
“I’ll just tell you what I told him when I met him in April,” recalled Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Tuesday. “I said, ‘Why in the hell don’t you have a job?’”
It’s a line that remains etched in Blanchard’s memory.
“Yeah, that was cool,” Blanchard said. “I’ll never forget that, just because it was a good workout and it’s a high compliment to hear from him.”
So why in the hell didn’t Blanchard have a job until the Packers signed him on April 15? At Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, he helped the Warhawks win three national championships. He went 25-0 as a starter with 44 touchdowns against just five interceptions. After going undrafted in 2012, he spent most of his rookie season on the Bears’ practice squad. He was in position to make their roster in 2013 before a broken left hand. Blanchard spent the second half of 2013 on Carolina’s practice squad and was battling for a roster spot last summer before the concussion.
“I guess what I told him was I’ve been injured the last two years so I think that puts you behind the eight-ball a little bit and maybe teams don’t want to take a shot on guys that missed that amount of time,” Blanchard said. “I believed that I would have another opportunity, and thankfully the Packers called and I had a good workout and it all worked out.”
Blanchard’s road to an NFL roster took another detour when the Packers traded up in the fifth round to grab UCLA star Brett Hundley. With two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers, promising Scott Tolzien and now Hundley, Blanchard appears to be a long shot to win a spot on the 53-man roster. After all, Hundley might make the roster by default just because he’s a draft pick. All Blanchard can control is how well he prepares and how well he plays.
“I told my wife and I told my family that going into this year, even before the Packers drafted a guy, I was like my goal is just to play really good football,” he said. “It sounds like a simple thing but you can get caught up in the politics, you can get caught up in things going on. At the end of the day, if you play good football and you do your job, things are going to work out one way or the other. That’s all I can do and that’s all I’m hoping for.”
Blanchard clearly outplayed Hundley during the offseason and figures to enter training camp as the No. 3 quarterback. After Tuesday’s practice, which was probably his best to date, McCarthy said “there’s a lot to work with as far as his physical talent.” He also pointed to Blanchard’s winning pedigree and improvement throughout the offseason.
“I agree with Coach,” quarterbacks/receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said on Tuesday. “He’s a guy that has a great skill-set. He’s a big athletic guy who can throw the ball. We’ll see. He’s been impressive. He’s been able to adapt into our quarterback school, and you’re starting to see now that he’s got the athleticism and the feet and the arm strength. I think Matt’s made some big jumps in the spring.”
It’s all gratifying for a player who has persevered through two serious injuries and wondered if he might get another crack at the NFL.
“Grew a lot as a player, just the knowledge that I received from the coaches, Aaron and Scott,” he said of the offseason. The knowledge that I’ve received is incredible. I’ve just built upon my game and I’m happy to see progress. You put in the time, you put in the work, you want to see progress. I kept getting better week after week and that’s what I wanted to see.”
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