LAKE FOREST – Dane Sanzenbacher has made a name for himself with an impressive college career at Ohio State and a strong preseason with the Bears.
As for possible nicknames, well, those could use some work.
“Some of the trainers call me ‘Dinger,’ or ‘Sanzendinger,’ – I don’t even know where that comes from,” Sanzenbacher said Tuesday at Halas Hall. “They just all come off slaughtering of my last name, and whatever they can get out of [it], that is what we go with.”
Pretty soon, Sanzenbacher could be called something else: An NFL player.
The Bears must determine their 53-man roster for the regular season by Saturday, and Sanzenbacher is one of several undrafted rookies with a legitimate chance to make the team.
Others include tight end Kyle Adams (Purdue), linebacker Dom DeCicco (Pittsburgh) and defensive end Mario Addison (Troy).
Bears coach Lovie Smith praised Sanzenbacher for his consistency.
“Since day one, he’s made plays,” said Smith, who was an assistant coach at Ohio State in 1995. “We feel like we have a pretty good handle on what he is.”
During his senior year at Ohio State, Sanzenbacher (5-11, 180) was voted as a team captain and the Buckeyes’ most valuable player.
He caught 55 passes for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn a spot on the all-Big Ten team.
Sanzenbacher’s success continued into the preseason after he signed with the Bears. He impressed coaches during training camp in Bourbonnais, and he is tied for second with six receptions for 57 yards in three preseason games.
Despite that, Sanzenbacher said, he has not done enough to make the team.
“Not yet,” Sanzenbacher said. “I think there’s still a lot to do this week and obviously with the Browns game. You never stop proving yourself of trying to get a spot, especially when you’re in my position. You can’t rest on anything.”
Rest will not be an option for players on the Bears’ roster bubble this week. Many starters will play little if at all in Thursday’s preseason finale against Cleveland, which will leave the bulk of the action for second- and third-stringers on the depth chart.
Expect Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz to call a few plays with Sanzenbacher in mind. The receiver fits the profile of previous versatile, compact players in his system such as Az-Zahir Hakim (St. Louis Rams) and Mike Furrey (St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions).
“Dane has done a real nice job,” Martz said. “He knows several positions, which is very important. He’s got some similar skills probably of Earl [Bennett] in the slot. The matchups for him inside are really good, so we’re very pleased with him.”
Likewise, Sanzenbacher is pleased with his decision to sign with the Bears. He had the option to sign with any team in the league after he went undrafted.
“To be honest, it was just a gut decision,” Sanzenbacher said. “There were other options out there, and we entertained them all. …
“When it came down to be my decision, I wanted to go to a place where not only was it a good situation, but that I really wanted to make that team. Since it was my opportunity and I finally got to pick, I wanted to go to a place like this.”