Dane Sanzenbacher is aware of the comparisons to a former Bengals receiver.
There’s the uniform number, the position, the size…
“…the skin color?” said Sanzenbacher. “I know where you’re going with this.”
It’s true, like former Bengals receiver Jordan Shipley, Sanzenbacher is Caucasian. But that’s not why the team’s current #11 bares resemblance to the previous one.
“He’s a tough kid, he’s got great quickness in space, and he’s got a good feel for the game,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden of Sanzenbacher. “Everything that he displayed at Ohio State you can see on the field. And the one thing obviously that you can’t see is his toughness. He’ll catch it in a crowd – we know that. He’s got really good hands and runs very good routes.”
Except for the reference to Ohio State, Gruden could have been describing Shipley in 2010 when he led AFC rookies in receiving yards with 600.
“It’s the style of play – I get it,” said Sanzenbacher. “I think he was a great player when he was here. I wouldn’t say that I modeled my game or anything after him, but I can see the similarities and it’s a compliment.”
But Bengals receivers coach James Urban would rather not compare Sanzenbacher to Shipley.
“I try to avoid that,” Urban told me. “They’re different and Dane is his own player. He has a tremendous feel for the game, understands how to get open, and as important as anything playing the slot, he knows when he is open. Sometimes when you play inside where the windows are tighter and shorter, if you don’t know that you’re open you can run right through it. You’ve got to be available for the quarterback and he knows those things.
Sanzenbacher finished his career at Ohio State with an outstanding senior season in 2010, earning team MVP honors by catching 55 passes for 948 yards, including 11 touchdown grabs. He was signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent and had a solid rookie year, finishing with 27 receptions for 276 yards and 3 TDs.
But after Chicago traded for Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery in the second round last year, Sanzenbacher received limited playing time before being waived on Christmas Eve. The Bengals claimed him the following day.
“It was a different kind of Christmas,” said Sanzenbacher. “My family was with me in Chicago at the time. The phone rings and life changes quickly. I hopped in the car, packed all the stuff that I figured I would need, and I’ve been here ever since.
“At the time, you go from being ticked off while leaving the city to being excited about your new opportunity. I think it’s been a really good move for me.”
On Monday when I asked a member of the Bengals front office what players were standing out during the current OTA period, Sanzenbacher was one of the first names mentioned.
“I feel pretty comfortable,” Dane told me. “As little time as it was, it was nice to have those two weeks at the end of last year to be here get acclimated with everything. It’s not all brand-new. Obviously through the OTAs and everything, we’ll re-install the offense and start from scratch for the rookies, but I feel comfortable and I think that helps you to play fast.
“He’s been making plays (at practice) since we got him in here late last year,” said Urban. “We liked him a lot coming out of Ohio State and we’re glad to have him.”
Sanzenbacher will be battling to earn a roster spot as part of a deep receiving corps. A.J. Green, Andrew Hawkins, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu are virtual locks to stick, leaving (in alphabetical order) Tyrone Goard, Cobi Hamilton, Taveon Rogers, Roy Roundtree, Sanzenbacher, Brandon Tate, and Ryan Whalen fighting for the final two (or possibly three) spots.
“You can’t really think about the numbers,” said Sanzenbacher. “We’re in OTAs right now for one, so it would be dumb to play the numbers game at this point. As cliché as it sounds, you just have to take advantage of your opportunities.”
“I showed them a quote today that said, ‘You have to take advantage of your opportunity when it comes because you don’t know when your next chance is going to be.’” said Urban. “I keep emphasizing that. I can’t promise them X-number of balls. They’re all going to get their reps but depending on how the reps fall, they may not get many balls that day. When the ball comes they’ve got to make the play and do the right thing. That’s what we’re trying to encourage.”
“You can’t complain about how often your opportunities are coming if you don’t take advantage of the ones that come,” Dane told me. “I think you have to go out there and try to do things that people are going to remember. It only takes one play to turn heads.”
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