As an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State in 2011, WR Dane Sanzenbacher was able to make enough of an impression on Bears’ coaches to earn a roster spot in his rookie season.
But that was on a team clearly deficient at the wide receiver position.
This year, on a team suddenly and seemly deep at wide receiver, Sanzenbacher looks poised to earn a far more meaningful position with the team in 2012.
Make no mistake about it, despite Dane’s struggles in 2011, he and quarterback Jay Cutler have chemistry; it’s evident during every practice of training camp.
The Bears have sent a lot of balls Sanzenbacher’s way in practice; showing him looks with the first team offense at times. And, to Dane’s credit, he’s made the most of his opportunities.
Sanzenbacher had been in an uphill battle with WR Devin Thomas in trying to convince the Bears to carry six wide receivers on their regular season roster.
But Sanzenbacher wasn’t much of a special teams contributor; Thomas was.
Dane caught a break on Sunday when Thomas announced that he would retire from the NFL and leave the Bears.
Lovie Smith said this of Sanzenbacher after practice on Sunday: “We’re pleased with him. He’ll have a good shot at our team.” Somewhat strong words for a typically insipid Smith.
The Bears will keep at least five receivers on the roster this season in Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery and special teams Pro Bowler Eric Weems.
But they carried just five last season and will need to be convinced that holding a spot for a sixth is worth the player it will cost them elsewhere.
I got a chance to talk one-on-one with Dane after practice on Sunday and asked him what he has to do to convince the Bears to keep him on the roster.
“First thing is that you have to be accountable,” Sanzenbacher said. “You’ve got to earn the trust of your coaches and teammates. They want to feel comfortable putting any of their receivers in the game, knowing they’re not going to make mistakes. You have to make the plays you’re supposed to make, and once you start making a few that are out of the ordinary, you can catch some attention.”
With Thomas out of the picture, Sanzenbacher likely opens a battle with undrafted free agent WR Brittan Golden out of West Texas A&M, who’s impressed throughout camp. But Sanzenbacher still looks to have the upper hand.
But he’ll have to play special teams.
“I’ve been worked in a little bit,” Dane said. “More and more lately. I’ve been on punt, a little bit of kickoff. But yeah, as of recently, I’ve been getting a few more reps [on special teams] here and there.”
Regardless of Devin Thomas’ decision to retire, Dane says he’s always had just one goal.
“My goal was to make the team from the time I got here, regardless of who was here. I don’t want to make the team by default. If I’m not one of the best guys for the job, then I’ll be out of here. If I am, then I’ll be here.”
I think he might be.