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NFL commentary: Blanchard embraces next challenge

Former Bears quarterack Matt Blanchard is sacked by Carolina's Louis Nzegwu during preseason action in Charlotte, N.C. Coincidentally enough, after being cut by the Bears, Chiefs and Buccaneers, Blanchard was signed to the Panthers' practice team.
Former Bears quarterack Matt Blanchard is sacked by Carolina's Louis Nzegwu during preseason action in Charlotte, N.C. Coincidentally enough, after being cut by the Bears, Chiefs and Buccaneers, Blanchard was signed to the Panthers' practice team.

For ex-Bears quarterback Matt Blanchard, more than 2 months of healing and hard work led to a fresh round of NFL tryouts.

First came the Kansas City Chiefs. Next, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

By the time the Carolina Panthers invited Blanchard to try out in front of coaches this week in Charlotte, N.C., the Lake Zurich native knew where to turn.

Hey, Mom. Can I get a ride?

“This time, I took him to the airport,” said Peg Blanchard, who dropped off her son Monday for his latest workout. “I said, ‘I think I’m your good luck charm this time.’”

She was right.

Moms usually are.

The Panthers signed Blanchard to their practice squad, where he will contribute however possible behind fellow quarterbacks Cam Newton and Derek Anderson. Thus marked the latest step in a long road back for Blanchard, who could have earned a spot on the Bears’ 53-man roster this season, if not for an ill-timed preseason injury in which he broke the knuckle on the ring finger of his left hand.

Now, instead of playing for his hometown team, Blanchard is part of the resurgent Panthers (4-3), as they compete with the Bears and others in the NFC playoff hunt.

“The last couple months have been a roller coaster, for sure,” Blanchard said. “But I’ve had great support. I’ve gotten healthy rather quickly, which is great.

“These injuries, they really shape your character a little bit. They give you a great sense of adversity that you’ve got to overcome. It makes you a better person for it, once you get through it.”

Once again, Blanchard got through it. He did so as an under-recruited state champion at Lake Zurich. He did so after injuries in college, rebounding to have an outstanding career at UW-Whitewater. He did so after going undrafted in the NFL.

All along, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound quarterback relied upon a not-so-secret formula to chase his dreams.

Any dream-chaser is welcome to use the formula, by the way.

Here it is: Hard work. Dedication. Belief.

After the Bears waived Blanchard with an injury settlement Aug. 27, he could have stewed in anger or wallowed in self-pity. Instead, he worked out and waited for clearance to begin throwing again, which finally came after a 24-day layoff.

Five days a week (sometimes 6), for 2½ hours a day, Blanchard worked on his throwing technique with coach Jeff Christensen at Throw It Deep Academy in Lockport. Christensen spent eight seasons as an NFL quarterback beginning in 1983, and he marveled at Blanchard’s progress in the past 2 years.

It’s all about the feet, knees and hips. Well, that, plus the arms and the fingers.

Add the head and the heart, and it’s no wonder Blanchard is succeeding.

“He’s still in the big improve,” Christensen said. “I don’t know how good he could be. I know he’s substantially improved last week from where he was a year ago, and he’s still on the upward trend.

“What I mean by that is his accuracy, his velocity, his spin ratio – it just keeps getting better and better and better.”

So much so that Christensen was forced to apologize.

Not long after Blanchard started working out at Throw It Deep, he and Christensen had a conversation about what the quarterback’s professional ceiling might be. Christensen prides himself in telling it like it is, and he told Blanchard exactly what he thought: If everything went well, Blanchard could be a career backup in the NFL.

A few days passed before the two spoke again.

“He calls back,” Christensen said. “‘I think I can start.’ First sentence.”

Fast forward to this fall, 5 days after Blanchard was cleared to throw. Christensen watched in amazement as Blanchard threw 165 passes, missing on only three.

The menu called for crow. Christensen ate it.

“I think you might have the goods,” Christensen told Blanchard. “You might have what it takes to be a starting NFL quarterback.

“And he just keeps getting better on a week-by-week basis.”

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