This is No. 3 quarterback Matt Blanchard's time of year.
Barring any catastrophes, Blanchard probably won't see much playing time in the regular season behind Jay Cutler and Josh McCown. But he played extensively in the first preseason game and will see additional action tonight against the Chargers at Soldier Field, when most of the Bears starters are expected to play only about a quarter.
Now is when Blanchard has to prove that the team will be able to rely on him when the games count.
"The preseason is very important," said Blanchard, who led Lake Zurich High School to the Class 7A title game in 2006 and went 25-0 as a starter at Wisconsin-Whitewater. "I think it's great that I experienced a lot of the things that I did Friday night. It's just huge growth and really something to build on. I get minimal reps in practice, so the preseason and getting live reps, it's super important."
Blanchard showed excellent accuracy against the Panthers, completing 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards and an 88.4 passer rating, but he was sacked five times behind second- and third-team offensive linemen, and he was picked off once. He was also the Bears' leading rusher with 26 yards on 4 scrambles.
"Matt went out and just executed the plays that were called," said Bears offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. "When they broke down, he ran, whether it was protection or a route breakdown, he took off running, so he had a good outing in Week One."
Head coach Marc Trestman has stressed to Blanchard that the best way of earning the trust of coaches and teammates is by taking care of the football and avoiding mistakes -- essentially playing it safe. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, who spent the past two seasons on the Bears' practice squad, is fully aware of his role. But the urge to go for it will always be there, as it is for most quarterbacks.
"There's always that tendency," he said. "Being a quarterback, you want to take shots, but you have to be disciplined enough to check the ball down. This offense, a lot of it, as far as being accountable, is trusting your drops and trusting your progressions. If you're a good student, and you apply those things, you're going to take care of the football."
If Blanchard does get to air it out tonight, a prime target could be seventh-round draft pick Marquess Wilson. The two collaborated on a 58-yard pass play last week.
Wilson said he had to adjust to the speed of the game, but he showed an excellent burst on his long run after catching a slant over the middle.
"The speed got me, it ran me for a loop," the 6-foot-4, 184-pounder said. "That was one of the things that surprised me off the jump."
Wilson quit the Washington State team after the ninth game of his junior season after a dispute with coach Mike Leach, but even without the benefit of a redshirt season, he became the school's career record-holder with 3,207 receiving yards and is second with 189 catches and 23 touchdown receptions.
The spindly Wilson is still just 20 years old, and he needs to get stronger to defeat press coverage. He's also, for the first time in his life, working on special teams, where he'll need to contribute to make the 53-man roster. So far, Wilson has only practiced on special teams, but he'll play on coverage units tonight.
"We're going to put him out there and see what he can do," special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "We'd like to see what kind of a contact player he is. We've all seen him run, but we need to see what kind of contact player he is. We're looking forward to it."
So is Wilson, who said he needs to build off last week's big play.
"It feels good, but in the back of your mind you know nobody's safe," he said. "You just have to go out there and perform. Special teams gives everybody an extra opportunity. If you're a young guy, you look forward to that opportunity because you have to play special teams."
•Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.