Sanzenbacher knows he's in Bear of roster battle
With deep receiving corps, 2nd-year player will have to show worth on special teams
By Fred Mitchell, Chicago Tribune reporter
7:53 p.m. CDT, June 14, 2012
Last season's heralded losses of Jay Cutler and Matt Forte underscore the harsh NFL reality — the next man on the Bears roster must be prepared to deliver. Too often, that didn't happen in 2011.
Now, positions of apparent strength, such as the wide receivers group, will keep players such as Dane Sanzenbacher on high alert when training camp begins July 26 in Bourbonnais.
The lithe second-year receiver from Ohio State knows his ability to be a dependable situational receiver and a contributor on special teams will be paramount to his sticking on the roster.
"You've got to do whatever (it takes)," Sanzenbacher said. "There are a lot of guys, a lot of talent in that room. They brought some new guys in. The best guys are going to stand out in the end. Got to make plays, got to keep yourself in it.
"It's a little bit of a different feel — a new offense (under Mike Tice). Trying to learn everything fast."
Coach Lovie Smith said he likes the makeup of his team from top to bottom.
"When I say we are a better football team, I'm talking about the 53-man roster, even the 60-man, with the practice squad," Smith said. "We have some good training-camp battles going on. I feel like we have an idea which direction we're going, but as far as some of the roster spots, it's hard to evaluate. When you talk about evaluation, you can't really evaluate linemen until you get the pads on."
The Bears receiving corps is brimming with potential, but Sanzenbacher hopes to survive an expected roster battle with Devin Thomas. The 5-11, 180-pound Sanzenbacher said he learned a great deal as an undrafted rookie who caught 27 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
"Just learning how to play at this level, learning how to practice at this level," Sanzenbacher said. "You know, learning that you have got to bring it every day.
"Last year you had vets like Roy (Williams). This year you bring in Brandon Marshall. And for a guy that good, he teaches me how to work hard too. You learn so much from the older guys in the room and just how to play the game as a professional."
Thomas (6-2, 221) is in his fifth year out of Michigan State. He has 43 career catches and was a member of last season's Super Bowl-champion Giants. He has made his name as an aggressive special teams contributor.
"We won a lot of games, of course, with our special teams," Smith said. "I feel like we know who our returners will be, but it is not just about our returners, it's about our core group of special-team players.
"We've improved that also bringing in a player like Eric Weems. Getting Patrick Mannelly, a guy who seems like he has been here forever, back (after a knee injury last season) on the football field snapping the ball. Robbie Gould, Adam Podlesh … our (kicking) specialists are good.
"We know we have a good system that we run. Just like it has been in the past, we are going to win football games this year with our special teams."