Chicago Bears wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher caught 27 passes in 16 games last year as a rookie.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
For Dane Sanzenbacher, life on the edge is life as usual.
This week is no different.
The former Central Catholic and Ohio State star receiver who has taunted the odds at every turn will report for work as usual when the Chicago Bears travel today to Arizona.
Sanzenbacher has committed as much effort as anyone to preparing for a game Chicago (8-6) effectively must win to keep its playoff hopes alive. By mid-afternoon, he will have the game plan embedded in his mind, scrutinized the tendencies of the Cardinals’ defense, and gone over 11th-hour details.
Then, he’ll wait.
About 90 minutes before each game, Sanzenbacher learns whether he will wear his No. 18 jersey or sweats. Only 45 members of an NFL team’s 53-man roster are eligible to play each week, and more often than not this season, he has just missed the cut.
After catching 27 passes in 16 games during his rookie season, he is locked in a waiting game — the satisfaction of another year in the NFL outweighed by his eternal push for something more.
"I expect more out of me," said Sanzenbacher, who in the second season of a three-year deal that will pay him a base salary of $465,000 in 2012. "I'm not by any means resting on the fact that I have a second year on my resume."
True to his exacting form, Sanzenbacher said he’s "underachieved." Those standards are the reason why the 5-foot-11, 180-pound slot receiver is on the Bears at all.
Sanzenbacher, a two-time City League player of the year who went undrafted after earning All-Big Ten honors as a senior at Ohio State in 2010, again appeared a longshot to make the team’s roster this year. The Bears added five receivers over the offseason, including former Pro Bowl selections Brandon Marshall and Eric Weems and second-round pick Alshon Jeffery. There were also rumblings the organization planned to keep only five wideouts.
Yet the same way Sanzenbacher willed himself onto the Bears last season — then became the team’s first undrafted rookie receiver to score more than one touchdown since 1983 — he left a firm impression.
"The same type he made last year, coming in as an undrafted free agent and earning a spot on the roster,” coach Lovie Smith told reporters during training camp. “He has a role, what he can do, a quick receiver in the slot, shows up every day."
Sanzenbacher made the team as the sixth receiver, though the increased depth has meant fewer opportunities. He has one catch in four games.
All the while, the Bears are fading. They have lost five of six games since a 7-1 start and no longer control their playoff fate. Chicago needs to close the season with road wins at Arizona and Detroit and hope for one of several scenarios to come to pass, the most simplistic being a loss by the Vikings and Giants. (The Bears, in theory, also can make the playoffs at 9-7.)
Of his weekly uncertainty and the desire to help, Sanzenbacher said, "You can't let it frustrate you. All you can do is go to work."
And so he does, his satisfaction of inhabiting a place on the most exclusive real estate in professional football — a 53-man NFL roster — not to be confused with being content.
"Regardless of how you are worked into the game plan or what you think your role is going to be on Sunday, every day when you show up at practice, your reputation is on the line," Sanzenbacher said. "Your name is still on the line. Even if it’s only the people on this team that see it, you don't take days off.
"This is your profession, this is your craft, and this is how you put your signature on who you are as a player. I approach this the way I’ve approached every practice in my career. If you stay focused on what you're supposed to be doing, the opportunities seem to come to you. I don't know how it always works out, but I’ve been doing it for long enough to know you worry about the things that matter, you don't worry about the things that don't, and it ends up working out."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.