Anyone who has followed the football career of former Central Catholic and Ohio State standout receiver Dane Sanzenbacher knows a couple things for certain.
First, the odds have always seemed to be stacked against him as a relatively diminutive 5-foot-11, 184-pounder with decent but not lightning speed.
And, second, despite what Sanzenbacher lacks physically, it has never proved to be a good bet to count him out.
The former two-time All-Ohioan and OSU’s 2010 most valuable player is two weeks away from beginning his third NFL training camp, this time with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Sanzenbacher, who made the Chicago Bears’ roster as an undrafted free agent in 2011, had 27 receptions for 276 yards and three touchdowns his rookie season.
Last year was much different. He got pushed back in a numbers game at wide receiver and saw greatly reduced field time. He had just one catch for seven yards in four games before being traded to the Bengals on Christmas day.
“I probably learned more my second year than I did my first,” Sanzenbacher said. “My rookie year I kind of got thrown into it and my head was just spinning. Even though the numbers don’t show it, I think I progressed as a player that second year.
“You take that experience and carry it on to the next year. I’m getting a fresh start in Cincinnati. You carry over the confidence you’ve gained, and all the little things you’ve learned. It’s my third year, and I think it’s a good time for me to progress. I think it’s really going to be a good situation for me.”
Now in the final year of his rookie contract — which pays him approximately $460,000 a year — Sanzenbacher will start camp as one of 10 current Bengal receivers on the preseason roster bidding for six jobs. Other candidates may be added before or during camp.
“At this point you don’t want to let yourself get so excited about camp that you burn yourself out,” Sanzenbacher said of his offseason workout routine. “It’s a long season. You’ve got four preseason games and then 17 weeks. You just want to make sure you’re as healthy and ready to go as possible. You have to be as physically and mentally as ready as you can be when you walk in the door.”
Bengals camp at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati runs from July 25-Aug. 15. The team’s preseason opener is Aug. 8 at Atlanta.
Cincinnati’s young receiving corps has just one player — fifth-year veteran Brandon Tate — who has more than two years of NFL experience. The group includes three rookies and three second-year players.
The Bengals’ marquee receiver is A.J. Green, a third-year player out of Georgia who had 97 catches for 1,350 yards and 11 TDs in 2012.
“I don’t really count the numbers,” Sanzenbacher said. “Who knows what’s going to happen through the next couple months. We’ve got a lot of talented guys. In my opinion, [the receiving corps] is pretty stacked.
“It’s going to be a battle, but there’s a lot of things that play out during camp, and it’ll be in my control.”
Sanzenbacher spent much of the summer in Scottsdale, Ariz., training six days a week — a regimen that includes strength training, running, and catching footballs. Tuesday night he was en route from Dallas back to Scottsdale after spending a few days working out with teammates.
If the odds look long, Sanzenbacher finds himself in a familiar position.
After his superb all-around play as a receiver/defensive back led Central to the 2005 Division II state championship during Sanzenbacher’s junior season, it was a last-minute invitation to a college bus tour — run by Cleveland Glenville High School coach Ted Ginn, Sr. — that enabled him to work out at several college camps during the early summer of 2007.
One of those camp stops was at Ohio State, where former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel offered Sanzenbacher a scholarship on the spot.
Sanzenbacher accepted immediately, but still had to prove himself with the Buckeyes, and did so progressively over four seasons.
His first college catch as a freshman was for a touchdown, OSU’s first score of the 2007 season. He had 12 catches in 2007, which ended with the Buckeyes losing to LSU in the BCS national championship game.
He added 21 catches in 2008, 36 in 2009, and then led Ohio State with 55 catches for 948 yards and 11 TDs during his team-MVP senior season. That brought his career marks to 121 receptions, 1,820 yards, and 19 TDs, numbers that will mean nothing during the Bengals’ training camp, which coincidently will be chronicled in the fourth installment of HBO’s Hard Knocks cable TV series.
“I’ve never been a part of that, but I imagine it’ll be a little bit of a distraction,” Sanzenbacher said of the reality series. “It’s just something you need to handle and be professional about. Anytime you’ve got cameras following you around you have to sensor yourself to some degree. Outside of that, I think it will only be a minor distraction and something I can handle.”