The Chicago Bears were so impressed with QB Matt Blanchard during rookie minicamp that they decided to give the kid an invite to training camp. The undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin-Whitewater has been wildly inconsistent in Bourbonnais, although his natural instinct for the position is noticeable.
He carried that over to Soldier Field during Thursday's preseason opener. Against the Denver Broncos, Blanchard completed six of his seven pass attempts, although his only incompletion was an interception.
Blanchard was sacked twice, both appearing to be the result of him hanging onto the ball too long. He still has a long way to go but it was a solid start for a developmental passer.
Bear Report correspondent caught up with Blanchard after his first game in the NFL.
"It was great to be out there tonight. A dream come true really. An incredible experience and something I’d been hoping to do for a long time. To have the chance to throw the ball around out there, it was completely incredible. It's something that you hope will happen to you as a football player but until you are really there, on an NFL field, you can’t imagine how satisfying the experience is.
"I had some nerves but if you have confidence in the guys you are playing with, and I definitely do have that confidence, the nerves disappear surprisingly well. You tend to concentrate more on what is unfolding rather than on how you personally are feeling.
QB Matt Blanchard
"I’ve been practicing all out in camp, learning so much from Josh [McCown], Jason [Campbell] and Jay [Cutler]. They are a great help to my development and I couldn’t be happier.
"I wasn’t sure what to expect of Soldier Field. I’ve never played here before but once the ball was snapped, it felt comfortable. It was almost like one of my college games but much more intense. I could tell immediately that I’d learned quite a bit in camp.
"I guess I had some welcome-to-the-NFL moments. I got sacked. I had an interception. That was a temporary setback and it gives me something to work with. I wish we’d been able to win but you take what happens and work with that. You take the positives and expand on them.
"This week I’ll be meeting with the coaches, watching film, that sort of thing. As a quarterback you can never stop learning. Every day here is a valuable experience. I am being given the tools to succeed. The guys who are working with me have a wealth of knowledge about the game. I need to absorb as much as I can. It's up to me listen to them and to improve the things I am not doing well enough.
"When they had to clear the field before the game began, it was wild. Lightning was hitting all around and I was glad not to be out there. The refs told us that we wouldn’t have to wait too long but the way things were lookin, we weren’t convinced of that. We stood around in the tunnel and watched, hoping to get the game started sooner rather than later. It ended up delaying things only about 15 minutes.
"The turf once we got on the field was fine. You kind of expected it to be slick in spots, and it was, but as long as you’re not running around doing crazy things out there, you’re fine. I personally had no trouble with footing.
"For me tonight it was an education to have the opportunity to watch Jason and Josh out there. Seeing them reminded me how far I have to go to compete in this league. I appreciate the opportunity to be here learning from the best.
"What did I see? I saw the guys working hard. Things didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped they would but I see many positives. We have some great running backs, great wide receivers. The line looked good. It's just a matter now of learning from our mistakes and putting things together to go forward from this in a positive way.
"[Peyton Manning] is definitely one of the all-time greats. Watching him, it didn’t look as if he’d had any time away from football at all. He was right on tempo, right on target immediately. But I guess with a guy of his ability, that is what you would expect to see.
"I was particularly interested in watching how he controlled the tempo of the game. There was no question when he was out there that he was in charge.
"Going forward, it's back to Bourbonnais for the last week of camp. Then we have another game next weekend. I don’t bother to count the number of hours I’m spending in meetings, watching film, and working on the field, but I do know that I’m putting considerable time into this. I plan to use every minute of the opportunity I’ve been given to do well and to contribute positively to the team."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.