CHICAGO -- As a rookie trying to make it in the NFL, everything comes at you so fast -- the game accelerates, the playbook thickens, the options out of every formation grow exponentially, and the pressure ramps up.
In this year when the lockout compressed the whole preparation process, it's been auditions in the express lane for a free agent such as former Ohio State MVP, wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, who is trying to catch on with the Chicago Bears.
"You're going a hundred miles an hour all the time, then you stop for a second and look at your helmet, and it's not Central Catholic, and it's not Ohio State," Sanzenbacher said. "Being here, it all seems so surreal, but there's no time to think about it."
Sanzenbacher, a two-time City League player of the year for the Irish who went on to win four Big Ten titles with the Buckeyes, and earn first-team all-Big Ten honors last season, is a non-drafted free agent wide receiver who signed with the Bears after sorting through two dozen offers from interested NFL teams.
About two weeks into training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., 50 miles south of Chicago, Sanzenbacher is attempting to maximize his chances of making the team.
"As a free agent, you can't ask for anything more than opportunities and reps," he said. "They are giving me both of those, so the ball is in my court, and it's up to me to do something with it."
After a recent evening practice session in which the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Sanzenbacher made a number of impressive catches and earned time working with the Bears' first team, Chicago head coach Lovie Smith expressed approval with Sanzenbacher's performance.
"That's what you expect from a Buckeye," Smith said, according to the Daily Herald of suburban Chicago. "He's not the biggest guy around, but he's got great quickness, runs great routes, and he has good hands. He's a confident player. He came here looking to earn a position on the team."
Sanzenbacher said he approaches every practice with the intention of getting Smith's attention, knowing that at some point soon Smith, the former assistant at Ohio State and Wisconsin before he moved into the pro ranks, will have to start deciding which receivers will make the Bears' final roster.
"There's a ton of guys in the receivers' room right now, and the coaches haven't made any decisions yet, but my job is to make their decision as tough as possible," Sanzenbacher said.
The training camp regimen of 14-hour days of meetings, meals, and workouts has Sanzenbacher processing information almost non-stop.
"The major adjustment has been learning all you need to know, plus learning how to be a pro," he said. "We joked about football being like a job at Ohio State, but it is definitely a full-time job at this point. You learn what it takes to survive in this league, and how critical it is to perform at your best every time you get a chance."
Sanzenbacher and the Bears play their first preseason game Saturday night against the Buffalo Bills. The preparation has been intense.
"No matter what guys did during the lockout, you can't really get into football shape working out on your own," he said. "You need to actually run the routes and see how you perform in stressful situations. Being in camp is challenging in so many ways, but there's been some encouraging signs. I've tried to jell with the other guys and get into as much detail on the offense as possible."
Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake told the Daily Herald that he likes what he has seen so far from Sanzenbacher as the former Buckeye works out against the Chicago defenders.
"You can't minimize the fact he's done some good things," Drake said. "You know, this game is based on production. The opportunities are based on production. Now, he's got to go out there in the preseason and prove it against other people, but he's going against some pretty good guys now."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.