Insider: Thumbs up to Blanchard, down to offense
Matt Blanchard’s NFL career may or may not continue after training camp. He’s a long-shot for the Packers’ roster or practice squad because of fifth-round pick Brett Hundley’s recent play, though Blanchard could end up with another team in either capacity.
Regardless, the former UW-Whitewater quarterback has made a credible showing in Packers camp and on Thursday made one of his best plays of the summer, and one he’s been hoping to try for weeks. It came during a red-zone period when he was quarterback of the scout team (i.e., running Pittsburgh Steelers plays).
On a second down just inside the 5 against most of the Packers’ starters on defense Blanchard scrambled to his right and as he ran out of room made a no-look pass to Jimmy Hunt along the sidelines for the touchdown. The pass was a true Magic Johnson no-look, with Blanchard’s head and eyes aimed toward the middle of the field while he threw the ball straight up the sideline using peripheral vision to see the target.
“We practice that (no-look) stuff,” Blanchard said. “Aaron’s unbelievable at it. He’s mastered that stuff. We actually practice looking off the flat defender or looking off the defense and throwing no-look to a receiver. It’s neat. I’ve been looking for a moment to apply that in practice, and it kind of just happened.”
Blanchard later threw another red-zone touchdown for the scout team on a seam route to rookie tight end Kennard Backman and an interception on a fade route when first-round pick Damarious Randall made the leaping catch in front of receiver Myles White.
Overall, Blanchard had to consider Thursday a good day, and the same for camp overall. He has an NFL frame (6-3, 223) and good mobility – his reported 4.69-second 40 is barely off the 4.67 seconds Rodgers ran coming out of college. He spent most of the 2012 season on the Chicago Bears’ practice squad, most of 2013 on Carolina’s practice squad, and most of last year on Carolina’s IR because of a concussion.
“I don’t know why he wouldn’t (have a future in the NFL),” said Alex Van Pelt, the Packers’ quarterbacks/receivers coach. “… He’s got good arm strength. He’s an athletic guy, he can run. His feet are good. Like most young guys it’s just picking up the system and having a full understanding.”
Almost all the Packers’ 11-on-11 work starting last week through the end of camp has one side of the ball running scout team of the upcoming opponent. For instance, when the offense is going against scout team defense, it’s usually facing second-and-third stringers running somebody else’s scheme.
So it jumps out when the scout team outperforms the other side of the ball in a practice period. And on Thursday, that happened when the Packers’ offense failed to get in the end zone against the scout-team defense on several plays during a spirited red-zone period.
On one play from the 5, Rodgers and Davante Adams failed to connect on a short out pattern. Two plays later, on a two-point conversion attempt, tight end Andrew Quarless dropped a throw that was on the money. And on the play after that, another two-point try, Rodgers’ short throw to running back Eddie Lacy at the goal line was broken up by inside linebacker Carl Bradford.
Later, the scout-team defense stuffed the No. 3 offense on three straight running plays. On the first, halfback John Crockett fumbled on a run from the 5. The other two were from the 2. Defensive lineman Bruce Gaston broke through and dropped Alonzo Harris for a one-yard loss on one, and several defenders engulfed Harris at the line on the other.
Defensive players celebrated like they’d won a game. Good for them. Not so good for an offense working against the scout team.
Did you notice?
■Kicker Mason Crosby had his first miss of camp with Tim Masthay as holder on Thursday. The kick was the first of a live period and was an extra point (33 yards) that went wide right. It was Crosby’s first miss after 29 straight makes in practice and the preseason opener at New England. He then made his final five attempts, ranging from 38 to 50 yards. So for camp and preseason he’s 40-for-41 with Masthay holding.
■Rodgers had a vintage free-play touchdown during a red zone period. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league at drawing the defense offsides and then hitting a shot play down field. On a second-and-seven, Rodgers drew the defense offsides. Center Corey Linsley quick-snapped the ball, and receiver Jordy Nelson ran a go route down the right sideline against cornerback Tay Glover-Wright. Nelson caught Rodgers’ pinpoint pass for the 22-yard score.
■Right tackle Bryan Bulaga lost his first rep in one-on-one pass rushing-blocking drills this camp. Julius Peppers beat him with an inside move. Bulaga won his other rep of the day, against Datone Jones, and is 12-1 overall in camp.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.