Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Not just another QB signing

It was an insignificant signing. Worth nothing more than an agate line of type under National Football League transactions in your local newspaper.

The Browns, hurting physically somewhat at the quarterback position depending on the condition of Josh McCown, signed quarterback Matt Blanchard Tuesday and placed him on the practice squad.

Just another body in camp in the event other club quarterbacks go down. And the reckless manor of Johnny Manziel’s performance in Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets indicates that’s a distinct possibility.

Get ready, Austin Davis. If McCown doesn’t pass concussion protocol by Sunday’s home opener against the Tennessee Titans and Manziel decides he is more running back than quarterback, you are the next man up.

So why, then, is Blanchard even a story? Well, let’s begin by suggesting that the mere mention of his name in Alliance, Ohio, is like uttering a dirty word.

Alliance is the home of the University of Mount Union (formerly Mount Union College), which boasts arguably the preeminent program in Division III college football. Since 1993, the Purple Raiders have appeared in a remarkable 18 Div. III championship games, winning 11. They missed appearing only four times.

The Purple Raiders currently have a 10 consecutive title-game streak, nine of them against the Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Warhawks, whose dominant uniform color is also purple, have won six of those games.

The two teams are so well coached, it is almost a foregone conclusion they will meet again in the championship game later this year in Salem, Va. It seems to have become an annual event.

Check this out: In the last 10 years, the Warhawks are 139-6 with the Purple Raiders inflicting half of those losses. Mount is 143-7 over that span, six of the losses dealt by the Warhawks.

So what does all this have to do with Matt Blanchard? The Wisconsin-Whitewater quarterback in three of those title-game victories (2009-11) over Mount Union was none other than the 6-3, 225-pound Blanchard, who transferred to Whitewater from Northern Michigan after his freshman season.

He never lost a game in three seasons with Whitewater, throwing for 5,106 yards, 44 touchdowns and completing 70% of his passes. At one point, he threw 212 straight passes without an interception. Even so, it wasn’t good enough to rate being a selection in the 2012 NFL college draft.

The Chicago Bears signed Blanchard to a free-agent contract that year and he wound up on the practice squad. He subsequently spent time on the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad and was in Green Bay’s training camp this year before being released.

The only Div. III quarterbacks to make an NFL roster and play with at least a fair degree of success are Jack Kemp from Occidental with the Buffalo Bills back in the 1960s and Augustana’s Ken Anderson, who spent 16 seasons (1971-86) with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Blanchard, now 26, arrives with the reputation of having a strong arm and a high degree of accuracy. For right now, though, he’s just another player for whom rabid Browns fans can get excited.

The odds of Blanchard becoming anything more than that line of agate type are not good. Only time will tell whether Cleveland is just another stop in his career or he is the next Jack Kemp or Ken Anderson.

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