For Matt Blanchard, Saturday’s preseason game against Philadelphia could mean everything.
His Green Bay career – his professional football career – could be riding on his performance against the Eagles.
Blanchard officially is in his second NFL season. In reality, this is his fourth. He’s 26. Time marches on for everyone, especially small-school quarterbacks who never have taken an NFL snap or even made an NFL roster.
That makes this game the opportunity of a lifetime. This is the so-called dress rehearsal game of the preseason, the one in which the starters play deep into the second quarter if not into the third quarter. But with three-fifths of Green Bay’s starting offensive line sidelined by injuries, there’s little reason to put Aaron Rodgers on the field. Plus, Scott Tolzien is out with a concussion. So, it was hardly a surprise when Blanchard said the offensive starters weren’t going to play against the Eagles and that he might play an entire half.
Perhaps rookie Brett Hundley will start and play the entire first half and Blanchard the entire second half. Or maybe Hundley will play the first and third quarters and Blanchard the second and fourth. Either way, Blanchard will be getting a lot of playing time against some of the Eagles’ top defenders. If he impresses, his window of opportunity – whether it’s in Green Bay or some quarterback-starved team – will stay open.
“You talk about how big the game is but I think they’re all big games,” Blanchard said on Thursday. “My mind-set going into this game isn’t any different other than the fact that I know I’m going to be playing more. The first game was big, the last game was big and this game’s going to be big, too. You just get ready and do your job and do it at a high level.”
After being part of three Division III national championship teams at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Blanchard went undrafted in 2012 but spent most of the season on the Bears’ practice squad. He had a good shot at sticking with the Bears in 2013 until sustaining a broken non-throwing hand in a preseason game. With Carolina in 2014, Blanchard suffered a significant concussion in the preseason.
A few weeks before this year’s draft, Blanchard signed with the Packers. So impressed was coach Mike McCarthy by Blanchard’s workout that he asked Blanchard, “Why in the hell don’t you have a job?” Blanchard called those comments “very flattering.” All he wanted was a chance and refused to get discouraged when the Packers drafted the UCLA hot-shot Hundley a few weeks later.
“I figured I’d get another opportunity with a team,” Blanchard said. “I didn’t know it would be in Green Bay, but when they did call and they signed me, it was pretty awesome. My mind-set going into this season, to be honest, was just to do my job and play really good football. I felt like if I did that, good things were going to happen. It seems really simple but maybe in years past, my rookie year, my second year, I would’ve thought too much of how things were going to play out roster-wise and how things were going to work out for me. At the end of the day, if you play good football, good things are going to happen.”
Blanchard’s had a good training camp but hasn’t had much of an opportunity in the preseason, going 3-of-5 for 20 yards in two games. The team is hitched to Hundley as its third quarterback based on long-range potential more than NFL readiness. It’s quite possible Blanchard is playing for a spot on the Packers’ practice squad or an opportunity elsewhere.
Thus, Blanchard can’t wait for Saturday. What better way to prove that he’s an NFL quarterback then by leading a bunch of backups to success against a playoff-caliber team’s top defenders.
“For me personally, this is my fourth training camp. I’ve been here since April. You want to really go against the best guys you can,” Blanchard said. “If you’re a competitor at any level, you want to face the best talent you have the opportunity to go against to really see where you’re at. We’re going to have that opportunity Saturday night. I’m just so excited.”
Blanchard has endured a lot to get himself in this position. The hand injury at Chicago was a bitter disappointment. The concussion at Carolina prevented him from even driving for six weeks. But Blanchard kept pressing forward through equal parts hope, faith and drive.
“If you’re competitive by nature and you have an opportunity to play at this level – or play at any level – you want to play as long as you can,” he said. “You’re hanging on to just wanting to play. That’s what kept me going. I just wanted to continue to play and see how far I could go. Your dreams and aspirations change the longer you stay in this and the more opportunities you get. Keep striving, keep working.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.