But Cutler's support may not be enough for receiver to make roster
By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune reporter
8:31 p.m. CDT, August 6, 2012
BOURBONNAIS — If Jay Cutler's input factors into the decision, Dane Sanzenbacher should have a serious chance to make the Bears' 53-man roster.
But even if Sanzenbacher performs well in the preseason, there is no guarantee, unless the Bears commit to keeping an inordinate amount of receivers.
The off-the-field bond between Cutler, the quarterback, and Sanzenbacher, the second-year receiver, has been evident for quite some time. Friendship aside, Cutler is a firm believer in Sanzenbacher, the player.
"You watch film on Dane and you have to keep him, from a quarterback's perspective,'' Cutler said. "I know there are numbers and he's got to contribute with Dave (Toub) and the special teams group. But every single day he's coming out here, he's catching balls. … He's going to be hard to let go, if we have to.''
Sanzenbacher, who joined the Bears last season as an undrafted rookie from Ohio State, seemed to be on the outside looking in at the start of camp. The Bears added Brandon Marshall, Eric Weems, Devin Thomas and rookie Alshon Jeffery to a receiving corps that already included Devin Hester and Earl Bennett.
When Thomas, a special teams ace, abruptly quit football Sunday, it appeared to open an opportunity for the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Sanzenbacher to stick as a possible sixth receiver. That was before the team re-signed veteran receiver Rashied Davis to a one-year, $825,000 contract Monday. Davis, 33, clearly has the upper hand over the 23-year-old Sanzenbacher in terms of special teams play.
"I don't feel like it is more pressure,'' Sanzenbacher said about Davis' signing. "It's out of my control. I just keep doing my job, doing whatever I can do, and let the coaches make their call.''
The Bears began last season with six receivers on the active roster, including Sanzenbacher. He finished fourth on the team in receptions with 27 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
It remains unclear how many receivers the Bears plan to keep this season, but those at the bottom of the depth chart will have to contribute on special teams. During training camp at Olivet Nazarene University, Sanzenbacher has fielded some kickoffs, worked at fullback on kick returns, and volunteered to line up as a gunner.
Receivers coach Darryl Drake evaluated Sanzenbacher's performance through 10 practices.
"He's does have to be better, and he has been better,'' Drake said. "Been very pleased with what I've seen from him. Don't want him to slack (off) or take his foot off the gas at all. Just continue to do what he's doing, and we'll see what happens.''
Drake declined to speculate on how many receivers would be kept on the final roster.
"I want this to be the most difficult decision that we've had to make since we've been here,'' Drake said. "When it's like that, then you've got some guys that can play.''