Dane Sanzenbacher, Jeremy Jones
Updated: September 1, 2012 6:12AM
BOURBONNAIS — Dane Sanzenbacher is in familiar territory at training camp — right back where he started from.
A year ago, Sanzenbacher was one of the biggest stories of camp. Coming in cold as an undrafted rookie after the NFL lockout ended, the 5-11, 180-pound wide receiver earned first-team reps by the first practice in pads.
He not only made the roster but played a key role at wide receiver after Earl Bennett was injured. He caught touchdown passes against the Saints, Packers and Vikings in his first six NFL games. He finished with modest numbers — 27 receptions for 276 yards — but the three touchdown catches were more than any other Bears wide receiver.
Now Sanzenbacher is back on the roster bubble, trying to beat the odds again to make the team.
‘‘If I’ve learned anything through the years that I’ve played football and even [at] Ohio State, I know that I’m not going to be handed anything,’’ Sanzenbacher said. ‘‘The minute you start to think that, you get put back in your place anyway.
‘‘I don’t feel cheated about it. My work last year earned me that year in the NFL, and it’s a privilege to play in it. Every year you have to prove yourself.’’
Sanzenbacher knows what he’s up against. Even if Johnny Knox can’t play at the start of the season, the Bears look pretty set at wide receiver with Brandon Marshall, Bennett, Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffery. With veteran special-teams players Eric Weems and Devin Thomas, there might not be room for Sanzenbacher even if he beats out newcomers Joe Anderson, Brittan Golden, Terriun Crump and Chris Summers.
‘‘It’s going to be tough,’’ Sanzenbacher said. ‘‘I can only control what I can control in the end. It’s totally on my shoulders. If I don’t make the team, it’s on me. It’s not because of an unfortunate circumstance or a roster breakdown. It’s going to be because I didn’t do the job. It’s my job to give them a reason to keep me.’’
Sanzenbacher’s experience, and his ability to adapt to any offense, could work in his favor. Having a good rapport with Jay Cutler can’t hurt — Sanzenbacher replaced Bennett as Cutler’s comfort target in tight spots. He caught an eight-yard touchdown against the Saints — his first NFL touchdown — on the drive that Bennett was injured. When Cutler was under siege in the fourth quarter in Detroit, he found Sanzenbacher four times for 40 yards.
‘‘I’m a better player today than I was coming into camp last year, just based off what I learned last season — how to prepare, every- day things, how to mentally prepare,’’ Sanzenbacher said. ‘‘I feel good about it going in. I don’t think I would have changed anything in preparation for this.’’
Rather than rue his tough luck, Sanzenbacher is concentrating on earning the job all over again.
‘‘We can overtalk it, but it’s a simple formula,’’ he said. ‘‘Get open, catch the ball, and the guys will want you here.’’