Matt Blanchard was a kid with a dream heading into last year's Chicago Bears rookie minicamp. The former Wisconsin-Whitewater quarterback was a relative no name at this time last year, yet his performance during the three 2012 rookie sessions earned him an invite to training camp. While in Bourbonnais, Blanchard showed poise in spite of his age, as well as a solid arm, good accuracy and an ability to extend plays with his legs.
Blanchard was so good, the team cut him before the final preseason game so as not to give the rest of the league a close look at a passer with his type of potential. When the preseason ended, the Bears quickly re-signed him and quietly stashed him on the practice squad, where he stayed for the remainder of the campaign.
This year, Blanchard comes into rookie camp with a year of NFL seasoning under his belt. That experience has helped him standout during the first two practices, not only with his performance as a passer but also with the leadership he has shown on the field.
"You definitely feel more like a veteran," Blanchard said. "With that comes a little more leadership, especially from a quarterback. It's my job to lead these guys, get everybody into the right position and make sure we're doing the right things. I've had a little bit more time than a lot of these rookies. It's a little more confidence and you feel good about coming here on the field and executing."
While Blanchard has more NFL experience than most of his offensive teammates this weekend, everyone is on the same page with new head coach Marc Trestman's playbook, which is a far cry from that of former offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
"[It's] a complex system," said Blanchard. "[The coaches] are doing a great job of making everything very transparent, on our footwork, on our reads. Everything that we're doing, we're being very clear and concise. It's just making the game, mentally, a little bit more stimulating but we get to play faster once we get it."
The man most responsible for Blanchard's development is new quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, who was an NFL quarterback from 1978-1991 and has coached in the league since 1994.
"He's got a wealth of knowledge," Blanchard said. "He's played for 13, 14, 15 years in the league himself and then coached for another 15 or so. So he's just got a lot of knowledge about the position and he's doing a great job with all of us."
If Cavanaugh can develop Blanchard's natural tools, there's no reason the second-year player can't challenge Josh McCown for the primary backup role behind Jay Cutler. McCown is a much more experienced player but Blanchard has good upside and a skill set that has helped him truly stand out the past two days.
"I like Matt. I think he's got a good base," Trestman said. "He throws the ball well. He's very, very smart. Matt, he obviously has the aptitude to play the game. He's very good with our system of football. That's come to him very easily."
With Blanchard, it's going to be about taking advantage of the repetitions he gets in organized team activities (OTAs) and training camp. Today, Blanchard struggled with the deep ball early but was on point during 11-on-11s late in the session. It's that type of inconsistency he has to curb as he continues to make his bid for the final 53-man roster.
"[The key] is consistency," said Blanchard. "You've got to make plays and you've got to [move] the ball downfield and execute in everything that you're given. If you're given two reps, four reps, eight reps, whatever, you've got to execute all of them and show you're stuff on film."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.