Dane Sanzenbacher returns a punt 71 yards to pay dirt vs. ATL in the 2013 Preseason
Cut by the Bears on Christmas Eve back in 2012, Dane Sanzenbacher got a call the next day from Marvin Lewis and Co. to become a part of a Bengals team, who at the time needed veteran wideout depth. A late Christmas gift for Dane in 2012 could prove to be an early Christmas gift for the Bengals in 2014.
Even if it's just the way you pronounce his name, from Jon Gruden to Cincinnati fans alike, "THE SANZENBACHA"
has won over hearts of many in his short Bengals career, despite a relatively short stat line in 2013, 6 receptions for 61 yards for no scores. This sample was taken from playing in 10 games with just one start. In 2013 he was listed as the number 5-6 wideout on the Bengals depth chart. (Depending on where you place primary return man Brandon Tate) He moves comfortably into the 4th-5th spot with the departure of Andrew Hawkins to Cleveland, sitting behind Gadget Quarterback/Wide Receiver Hybrid Mohamed Sanu, last year's breakout double digit TD pass catcher in Marvin Lewis Jones and some guy named A.J. Green.
In the start of the free agency period, The Bengals put out offer sheets for the unrestricted free agents; Sanzenbacher and aforementioned Hawkins went for about the league minimum for 1.2 million for one year. (Rotoworld.com) The receiver hungry Cleveland Browns bid higher on Hawkins 1.4 per year offer sheet and swooped up Hawkins offering him a 4 year 12.2 Million dollar contract to leave the rival Bengals. He bit and here we are. In Hawkins, the Bengals had an "X" factor with wheels to match. The Bengals will certainly miss his speed in the slot. But with his departure we will get to see just how much Sanzenbacher can do in a heavier role for this offense. Primed to compete for the starting slot job, Sanzenbacher has showcased, despite the small sample size; exceptional hands and the ability to be in the right place at the right time.
"All this kid does is make plays..."
He might not have the speed of the departed Hawkins, but he does have the upside to produce big plays when the team needs him to. He made the most of his number 5 position snaps last year logging big catches in back to back weeks. Against Buffalo in week 6 he converted a 4th and 15 with a magnificent one-handed catch for a 23 yard gain that set up the tying field goal to force overtime. Then in Detroit the following week got the first 7 of the 15 yards needed to place them in field goal range to win it in overtime.
Being the number 4-5 guy, means Sanzenbacher won't get as many first team reps unless he beats out Sanu or Tate sometime this summer/early fall. With the team running more 2 and 3 WR sets typically and the addition of a possible VEER, wishbone or whatever two/three back system you want to call what the Bengals have been running with 2nd round draft pick Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard being in the back field at the same time, also works against him. Speaking of Bernard, there is talk of him sliding along the slot on certain plays too, taking even more time away from our man Dane.
However, since Sanu is built more for the outside and Marvin Jones and A.J. can line up anywhere, Sanzenbacher might get a considerable amount of playing time in the slot this year. In that role, if he performs half as well as Hawkins did in his 3 years as a Bengal, a 2-3 score season with 300-400 yards is definitely a possibility given the propensity of new coordinator Hue Jackson to run the ball. His success in doing so with the Raiders in 2010-2011, one would assume the Bengals play action game will be considerably nastier. It will be nastier than it has been, since, well, the Rudi Johnson/Carson Palmer days. Since slot players tend to stay mostly inside during PA plays, one would also assume the slot players in a system that hinges on the running game/PA would result in higher percentage completion of throws to your inside guys like the slot receivers.
If Sanzenbacher can beat out second year Cobi Hamilton, Ryan Whalen, plus the bevy of rookie wideouts he will be in good standing for a place on the starting roster in 2014. His main adversary for this spot is return man Brandon Tate, who has explosive speed, but is rarely used for receiving duties. While Tate might be the frontrunner to adopt the slot spot vacated by Hawkins, His return duties might deter that. More so, what happens if a rookie or someone else has a stellar preseason returning kicks and or punts? How much of a discussion can Sanzenbacher be in for the punt returning spot? I personally don't think he has the consistent one step quickness or breakaway top speed to be our starting punt returner, but Jon Gruden said so himself, "All this kid does is make plays.."
Regardless of where he is placed on the depth chart, whether its the starting slot receiver or the primary punt returner, or some other position, I believe Sanzenbacher is primed to be main contributor in 2014.