LAKE FOREST – Matt Blanchard will be back.
Maybe it will be with the Bears. Maybe it will be with another NFL team. But Blanchard’s broken knuckle on the ring finger of his left hand will heal, and the quarterback who grew up in Lake Zurich and honed his skills at Wisconsin-Whitewater will be back.
“Minor speed bump in the grand scheme of things,” Blanchard said after what proved to be his final practice. “Things will work out. I know everything happens for a reason.”
That was Monday.
On Tuesday, Blanchard was released.
The technical term is that Blanchard was waived-injured, which means that the quarterback agreed to an injury settlement upon his departure.
The Bears needed to trim their roster to 75 players by 3 p.m. Tuesday – they will need to slice it to 53 players by 5 p.m. Saturday – and decided that they could not afford to wait on a green quarterback with a bum hand.
Bears coach Marc Trestman did not rule out the possibility of Blanchard returning to the Bears, although he reportedly will not be eligible to do so until after Week 10.
“I’m just disappointed he was injured,” said Trestman, a former quarterbacks coach who worked with Blanchard throughout the spring and summer. “I really liked his progress. I think we resonated that through the times we’ve talked here. Really, we’ll see how it goes as we move forward. There are so many variables between now and then.”
Maybe Blanchard knew that this week would bring disappointment.
After the end of Monday’s practice at the Walter Payton Center, Blanchard lingered on the field long after most of his teammates had left.
Eventually, only two players remained: Blanchard and rookie wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who played a simple yet strange game of catch.
Wearing a soft cast on his left hand and holding a football in his right hand, Blanchard cocked his arm and fired hard passes to Wilson. In return, Wilson lobbed slow, arching passes that Blanchard caught carefully with his lone good hand.
At least this marked action for Blanchard, who spent the first part of practice watching teammates Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Jordan Palmer and Trent Edward take turns in position drills.
“It’s tough,” Blanchard said. “Any injury of any kind puts you in the situation where you have to be a support base to everyone else there. It’s unfortunate you have to watch practice and you have to watch other guys getting reps, but you’ve got to deal with the cards you’re dealt sometimes.”
Blanchard, 24, held some promising cards before his luck changed.
In the Bears’ preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers, Blanchard shook off an interception to complete 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards.
He was slated for another significant amount of playing time in the team’s second preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, but he was injured after his first pass attempt – a completion to running back Michael Ford.
As the preseason unfolded, Blanchard said, he was feeling better than ever.
“The confidence level is night and day from where it was last year,” said Blanchard, who spent most of last season on the Bears’ practice squad. “And as far as grasping this offense, I felt really good about going into this preseason. I think it showed in Carolina.”
Then came the broken knuckle. The “minor speed bump,” as Blanchard called it.
But Blanchard is used to overcoming setbacks. He never was a prized college recruit at Lake Zurich. He never heard his name called in the NFL draft.
Yet even as a teenager, Blanchard believed that he was destined to play in the NFL.
“I was very under-recruited – I only got D-II offers,” Blanchard said. “But I always felt as though I was going to get a shot at some point. It was just a weird feeling in me that I felt something good was going to happen.”
He was right.
He’ll be back.