Dane Sanzenbacher was an undrafted rookie free agent from Ohio State for the Chicago Bears in 2011. Although he signed a three-year contract in July of 2011, Chicago brought in several receivers this off season to compete for the final wide receiver slot.
In this article, we'll break down his performance last season, focusing on the 13 games where Sanzenbacher was the target of at least one pass. This will provide an idea of what Sanzenbacher brought to the Bears last season, where he fell short of expectations and what he might offer the team in 2012.
Photo from Pre-Season Week 1 vs. Buffalo Bills
In his first game as a pro, Sanzenbacher saw limited action, and the Chicago Bears opened the season with a big 30-12 win against the Atlanta Falcons.
On the opening drive, the Bears drove deep into Atlanta territory, and were facing second and seven from the Atlanta 24-yard-line. Sanzenbacher lined up almost like an H-Back on the left side of the field, with Earl Bennett just outside of the left hash mark. When the ball was snapped, Cutler pitched it to Sanzenbacher who was cutting back to the right side of the field. However, rookie RT Gabe Carimi missed a block on Kory Biermann, and when Sanzenbacher tried to bounce to the outside, Sean Weatherspoon came up to make the tackle, dropping him for a four-yard loss.
Sanzenbacher's only other target in the game came in the second quarter. The Bears were leading 13-3, driving deep into Atlanta territory with 1:15 left in the half. On 1st and 10, Sanzenbacher lined up on the left side in the slot of a four WR set. Roy Williams was on the outside and ran a go route, while Sanzenbacher ran five yards and then broke to the outside. Jay Cutler put the ball in front of him and Sanzenbacher made a nice catch before running out of bounds for a six-yard gain.
In week two, Sanzenbacher had just three receptions for 33 total receiving yards. However, he did score Chicago's only TD of the day against the Saints.
In the first quarter on 2nd and 22, Sanbancher lined up in the slot and ran a five-yard square in over the middle of the field. Jay Cutler was under pressure, and dumped the ball to Sanzenbacher over the middle. However, Scott Shanle held Sanzenbacher's arm and he was flagged for holding. The pass fell incomplete, but the Bears got a first down as a result of the play.
Five plays later, the Bears were facing second and goal from the eight-yard line. Sanzenbacher lined up as a tight end on the right side of the field. The Saints completely missed him in coverage and Cutler hit him in stride for an eight-yard TD reception.
Sanzenbacher's next offensive action didn't come until five minutes left in the second quarter. The Bears were down 13-7 and it was 2nd and 10 on their own 19. Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot and ran a short crossing route. He caught the quick pass from Jay Cutler and was dropped immediately for an eight-yard gain.
After another field goal by the Saints, the Bears started the final two minute drive of the half from their own 20-yard line. The Bears came out in a four receiver set with Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot on the left. Sanzenbacher ran a short eight-yard curl, but the defender was able to jump in front of him and break up the pass.
On their opening drive of the third quarter, the Bears used a 30-yard strike to Johnny Knox to get to the New Orleans 20. On 2nd and 10, Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot on the left hand side and ran a corner route toward the front of the end zone. Cutler floated him a pass, but it was a bit overthrown and Sanzenbacher was well defended. The ball fell incomplete.
With 5:18 left in the third quarter, the Bears faced 3rd and 10 from their own 45. Sanzenbacher lined up in the right slot of a four wide receiver set. He hesitated at the snap, then split the defenders down the middle of the field. Cutler hit him with a great pass right in the chest, but Sanzenbacher dropped the ball, forcing Chicago to punt.
By the fourth quarter, the Saints had extended their lead to 30-13, and the Bears were passing on almost every down. Cutler was sacked at least once on every series, and the Bears faced long second and third down situations. With Chicago passing more, Sanzenbacher saw more time on the field, and had a chance to pad his stats a bit.
With 6:57 left in the game, the Bears faced 3rd and 18. Sanzenbacher lined up in the left slot. He cut across the middle and was open, but Cutler threw the ball a little high. It skipped off of Sanzenbacher's hands, and he took a hard shot. However, despite not making the catch, he bounced right back up and headed back to the sideline.
On the next series, Chicago faced a 1st and 15 after a false start penalty. Sanzenbacher lined up in the right slot and ran a deep curl. Cutler had to step up, and then threw a solid pass to Sanzenbacher who made the catch for a gain of 17 and the first down. It was his last target of the day.
In week 3, Green Bay came to town and put the Bears in the hole by taking the opening drive 80 yards down the field for a touchdown.
On the second play from scrimmage, Sanzenbacher lined up behind the tight end, and then broke to the flat when the ball was snapped. Jay Cutler dumped the ball to him and Sanzenbacher made a nice finger-tip grab before going out of bounds for a three-yard gain.
Three plays later Cutler threw a quick out to Devin Hester, but Sanzenbacher had run the wrong route. Hester hesitated and was only able to get a hand on the ball before it fell incomplete.
Sanzenbacher's next official target came with 8:16 left in the second quarter. The Bears were down 14-0, but had driven deep into Green Bay territory and were facing a 3rd and goal from the four-yard-line. Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot on the right side while Matt Forte motioned to the outside. Sanzenbacher ran a short square in and Cutler hit Sanzenbacher as he threaded the needle between two linebackers for the touchdown.
On Chicago's final drive of the second quarter, Sanzenbacher was targeted three times.
On 1st and 10 from the Green Bay 40, Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot of a four WR set and ran a short square in, making a nice catch for five yards.
Two plays later, with 1st and goal from the seven, Sanzenbacher ran a short route where he ran to the end zone and then cut to the outside. Cutler threw the ball well behind him and it was nearly intercepted.
On the next play, Sanzenbacher ran a slant and again Cutler threw the ball behind him. It was almost picked off again.
Sanzenbacher's next target came late in the third quarter deep in their own territory. On 3rd and seven from their own five-yard line, Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot on the right side. He ran a 10-yard curl route and was interfered with by Charles Woodson. Sanzenbacher fought through the interference, made the catch and turned up field for a 10-yard gain. The Bears declined the penalty and took the reception.
His final catch came with just 3:32 left in the fourth quarter. The Bears were down 27-17, and were out to their 47-yard line. Sanzenbacher ran a short curl route, made the catch and was tackled for a gain of six.
Photo from Week 3 vs. Green Bay Packers
After two touch losses to two playoff teams, the Bears were happy to be home against the Panthers. Although the game was a close battle, Sanzenbacher had a very limited role.
His one and only reception came in the second quarter with 5:11 to go. Carolina has just scored a touchdown, closing the gap to 24-17 in favor of Chicago. Chicago was facing 3rd and 2 on their own 34-yard-line. Sanzenbacher lined up at flanker on the right side, but motioned to the middle as the ball was snapped. Sanzenbacher faked a slant over the middle and when the cornerback bit, he quickly wheeled around to the outside. Jay Cutler threw him a perfect pass into the flat and Sanzenbacher hauled it in, breaking to the outside. The defender stumbled and Sanzenbacher was able to hug the sideline for a big 16-yard gain.
His only other target was in on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Bears were on the Carolina 38-yard-line, facing 3rd and 3. Sanzenbacher motioned left to right and hesitated when the ball was snapped. The cornerback blitzed and Sanzenbacher was left all alone in the flat. Jay Cutler floated him the pass to the outside. While the pass wasn't perfect, Sanzenbacher should have come up with the catch because he was wide open. Instead the pass hit him in the hands and he dropped it, forcing Chicago to punt.
Photo from Week 10 vs. Detroit Lions
The Bears faced a tough division rival on a Monday night game. The Lions were looking to go 5-0 and the Bears were looking to avoid an 0-2 start in division games.
Sanzenbacher's first action came late in the first quarter. The Bears were facing a 2nd and 13 from their own 29. Sanzenbacher motioned left to right into the slot, and ran a 10-yard curl. Jay Cutler threw him the ball, but it was knocked down by Chris Houston who drew a flag for pass interference. However, the Lions challenged that the ball was tipped and the pass was eventually ruled incomplete.
Early in the second quarter, Chicago was facing a 3rd and 7 from the 50-yard-line, down 7-0. Chicago lined up with an empty backfield, Sanzenbacher split out left in the slot. As the pocket broke down, Cutler scrambled and found Sanzenbacher on a deep crossing route. Cutler pulled up and hit Sanzenbacher for a nice 15-yard gain.
On the next series, the Bears were facing 1st and 10 on the Detroit 23, trailing 7-3 with 2:44 to go. Sanzenbacher was in the slot, and ran a short crossing route over the middle. Cutler was under pressure and dumped an awkward pass to him as he cut across the field. Sanzenbacher was able to get his hands on it, but couldn't come up with the reception.
After this drop, Sanzenbacher was not a factor in the offense until the fourth quarter. The Lions were winning 21-10 with just over five minutes to go. It was 1st and 15 on the Detroit 43. Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot and ran a short curl route down the left side. Cutler hit him with the pass and he was tackled after a nine-yard gain. On the next play, Sanzenbacher ran a curl to the inside, but the defender jumped the pass, knocking it away and forcing a third down.
On the final series of the game, the Lions were up 24-13 with 1:48 left to play. Detroit shifted to a prevent defense, and their defensive backs were giving the Bears a 10-yard cushion. Sanzenbacher piled on four receptions for 40 yards and dropped another wide open pass during the garbage time.
The Bears came home after the tough loss to Detroit on Monday night. Chicago finally posted a win against a division opponent, but Sanzenbacher had only one catch for the game.
Sanzenbacher's first target came with 7:49 left in the first quarter and the Bears leading 7-0. It was 3rd and 9 from the Minnesota 43, and Sanzenbacher lined up as the split end on the left side. Jay Cutler took a deep drop, and Sanzenbacher ran a deep crossing route. Cutler threw the ball in his direction, but it was 10 yards down the field, and well over his head, incomplete.
Sanzenbacher's only catch was with 6:48 left in the second quarter. Chicago was leading 16-3, with 1st and 10 from the Minnesota 13. Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot on the left hand side of the field, and broke to the end zone on a deep slant. Cutler threaded the needle between two defenders and Sanzenbacher made a nice catch, holding on as he was taken to the ground for the TD.
Sanzenbacher's final target came with 6:29 left in the third quarter. Chicago was leading 33-10 and faced a 3rd and 5 from their eight-yard-line. Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot to the left, and broke over the middle when the ball was snapped. The Vikings came on a blitz and Cutler flipped it out to Sanzenbacher to avoid the sack. Sanzanbacher took his eye off the ball though and it skipped off of his chest and helmet, falling incomplete.
Picture from Pre-Season Week 4 vs. Cleveland Browns
The Bears traveled to London England to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They came up with a big win, but Sanzenbacher's contributions to the game were minimal.
His first target didn't even come until the second quarter with Chicago leading 7-2. The Bears were facing 2nd and 10 on their own 34, and Sanzenbacher motioned back and forth on the left side, before settling out as the flanker just outside of the tight end. Sanzenbacher ran a short route up the field and then cut to the sideline. Jay Cutler hit him in stride and Sanzenbacher turned it into a nine-yard gain before being pushed out of bounds.
Sanzenbacher's next catch came late in the third quarter, with 4:08 left and the Bears winning 21-5. On 3rd and 5, Sanzenbacher lined up as the flanker on the right side. He motioned inside, then broke outside when the ball was snapped. Cutler put the ball into his hands and Sanzenbacher broke toward the first down marker but was tackled a yard short.
His final target came on the next series where the Bears faced a 3rd and 3 from their own 17-yard-line. Sanzenbacher motioned inside and when the ball was snapped, faked the crossing route, and then broke outside into the flat. He had a step on the defender, but Jay Cutler was under pressure and dumped the ball too far out in front of him. It fell incomplete.
After a week off, the Bears traveled to Philadelphia for a Monday Night match-up with the Eagles. Sanzenbacher finished the game without a catch, and only had two targets for the contest.
His first pass didn't come until the end of the second quarter. The Bears were winning 10-3 with 1:51 left in the half. They had the ball on their own 20-yard-line, 2nd and 10. Chicago lined up in a four WR set with Sanzenbacher in the slot to the left. Sanzenbacher ran five yards and then broke to the outside. The defense broke down and Sanzenbacher was wide open. Jay Cutler threw him the ball but it went right through the hands of Sanzenbacher and fell incomplete. He could have easily made the catch and broke it for a first down.
On the next play Matt Forte fumbled, Philadelphia recovered and returned it for a touchdown to tie the game.
On the next series, the Bears were facing 2nd and 5 from their own 30 with 1:23 left to play in the half. Sanzenbacher was in the flat to the left and broke down the field for a short curl. However, Jay Cutler was under pressure, and scrambled around to avoid the sack. Sanzenbacher couldn't get open, and when Cutler tried to force the ball into him, it was broken up and almost intercepted.
Photo from Week 3 vs. Green Bay Packers
In week 11, the Chicago Bears came home to face a struggling San Diego Charger team.
Sanzenbacher had just one target for the entire game, and it came late in the second quarter after the Chargers had tied the game at 10. With 1:21 left, Chicago was deep into San Diego territory, 1st and goal from the 10-yard-line. Sanzenbacher lined up as the split end, but close to the line of scrimmage on the left side. When the ball was snapped, he broke across the field and was open. Jay Cutler was under pressure though, and was back-peddling when he threw the ball in Sanzenbacher's direction. It hit the turf well out of reach.
Photo from Preseason Week 1 vs. Buffalo Bills
In one of the worst offensive displays of the season, Chicago lost their second game in a row without Jay Cutler under center. Sanzenbacher was targeted just one time in the game, and he finished the game without a catch.
Sanzenbacher's target came with 1:33 left in the first quarter. Chicago was facing a 3rd and 6 on their own 45-yard-line. Sanzenbacher motioned left to right, and when the ball was snapped, he ran a short square in. The ball was thrown well, but Travis Daniels reached in and knocked the ball away with a great defensive play.
With the season quickly slipping away, The Chicago Bears completely collapsed in the second half at home against The Seattle Seahawks. Sanzenbacher came in early due to the injury to Johnny Knox, and saw increased playing time the rest of the season. Sanzenbacher was targeted six times in the game, but finished with only two receptions for 26 yards.
Sanzenbacher's first action came with 12:09 left in the second quarter. The game was tied 7-7, and the Bears were facing 3rd and 8 at their own 42. Sanzenbacher lined up as the split end on the right side of the field and took off when the ball was snapped. He cut across the middle of the field, and as Caleb Hanie was running for his life, he found Sanzenbacher deep down the right side for an 18-yard gain. Sanzenbacher hauled in the tough catch and was dropped by two defenders, but he hung on to the ball.
Three plays later, on 1st and 10, Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot. He broke over the middle when the ball was snapped, then wheeled around and headed toward the sidelines. He had a step on the defender and Hanie put the ball in his hands, but when Sanzenbacher was hit, he dropped the ball and it was ruled incomplete. He should have been able to hang on to that pass.
On the next series, Chicago had just crossed mid field with five minutes to go. Sanzenbacher lined up as the right side flanker on 1st and 10. He ran a deep crossing route, but Hanie didn't see that he was well covered and Richard Sherman jumped in and broke up the pass.
Two plays later, on 3rd and 4, Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot on the right side and ran a short sideline route. Hanie scrambled to avoid the pressure and found Sanzenbacher sitting alone for a nice eight-yard gain.
In the third quarter, after the Seahawks scored two touchdowns in less than a minute, the Bears found themselves losing 21-14. They were facing a 3rd and 13 from their own 23. Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot and broke to the outside after running five yards up field. Hanie threw the ball to him on the left side, but Sanzenbacher was bumped and fell down before the ball could get there. It fell incomplete.
On the next series, with 4:51 left in the quarter, Chicago faced a 3rd and 6 from their own 15-yard-line. Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot to the left and ran a short sideline route. Hanie threw him the ball but it was a bit overthrown. Sanzenbacher made a one-handed catch, but couldn't keep both feet in bounds. It was his last target of the game.
Photo from Week 3 vs. Green Bay Packers
Another second half collapse and the Green Bay Packers handed the Chicago Bears a Christmas present they would love to forget. Sanzenbacher was a non-factor in this game until the final five minutes when the Bears were down 35-18, and Green Bay was just running out the clock.
Sanzenbacher's first action came with 5:26 left in the first quarter with the Bears down 7-0. The Bears faced 3rd and 13 on the Green Bay 38. Sanzenbacher lined up on the left side as a split end, and cut across the middle of the field. QB Josh McCown hit him in stride and Sanzenbacher had a nice 13-yard catch and run. However, Earl Bennett was called for an illegal shift, and the play was nullified.
With 6:12 left in the second, Chicago was deep in their own territory. On 2nd and 9 from their own 23, Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot to the right. McCown pumped in his direction and then laid out a nice pass. Sanzenbacher had a nice catch along the hash-mark for a big 16-yard gain and a first down. It was his last real action until the final drive of the game.
With 4:33 left, the Bears faced a 1st and 15 from their own five-yard-line. Sanzenbacher was targeted six times on the drive, making three receptions for 35 yards thanks to the 10-yard cushion from the Packers. He had one 19-yard reception called back when the replay showed that instead of making the catch, he actually let the ball touch the ground and the play was ruled incomplete. The final two passes that were thrown to Sanzenbacher were broken up and nearly picked off.
For the final game of the season, the Bears were looking to salvage a win and get back to .500.
Sanzenbacher's first target came on the second drive of the game for Chicago. They were down 3-0 with 7:58 left in the quarter, facing 3rd and 7 from their own 25. Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot on the left side of the field, and worked his way up the middle after the ball was snapped. Josh McCown tried to force the ball into him, but Sanzenbacher was double covered and it was broken up.
Near the end of the first quarter, with 1:16 left to play, Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot on the left side of the field. As he ran up field, the defense lost track of him and he was able to find the soft spot along the left hash mark. McCown hit him with the pass and he was able to turn up field for a big 22-yard gain. It was his longest play from scrimmage for the season.
Early in the fourth quarter with the Bears leading 14-13, they were driving deep into Minnesota territory, looking to extend their lead. On 2nd and 9 from the Minnesota 14, Sanzenbacher lined up in the slot on the left side of the field. He broke toward the sideline when the ball was snapped, but McCown was under pressure and the pass was too high for anyone to catch.
On the next play, Sanzenbacher ran the identical play to the opposite side of the field. This time McCown had time and he hit him with a nice pass. However, Sanzenbacher was too close to the sideline, and his momentum carried him out of bounds, short of the first down. The Bears had to settle for a field goal, but it was enough to eventually win the game for them.
Photo from the January 1 game against the Minnesota Vikings
For the season, Sanzenbacher finished with 27 receptions for 276 yards and 3 TDs. However, it's important to note that a good portion of those stats (7 receptions for 75 yards) were during garbage time when Chicago was facing a prevent defense.
Sanzenbacher lined up primarily as a slot receiver, although he would also sometimes motion to the outside. He was never used as a 'down field' receiver, specializing in curls, crossing and sideline routes. His longest reception was just 22 yards in the final game of the season. He doesn't have top level speed, so you won't see him returning many kicks or taking a pitch from the quarterback around the end.
Sanzenbacher made a few tough catches, but never distinguished himself as a 'my ball' type of receiver. He also showed concentration lapses at different points in the season, and had several key drops despite being wide open at the time.
While the initial training camp and OTA reports have been positive, Sanzenbacher will be firmly on the bubble to make the final 53-man roster. If he hopes to make the team in 2012, he's going to have to show improved concentration and more versatility during training came and the preseason.