Despite being two totally different types of players, both Dane Sanzenbacher and Taurian Washington understand that they are inexorably linked.
Both are sophomore wide receivers at Ohio State who saw game action as true freshmen. Both caught touchdown passes in their first-ever collegiate games, and both would go the rest of the season without snagging another. Both are primarily serving as backups this season with hopes of seeing more significant playing time during their second go-around in Columbus.
But perhaps owing to all of that, both Sanzenbacher and Washington are frequently lumped together when it comes to talking about the OSU wide receivers corps. Just don’t expect either of them to call their relationship a rivalry.
“No, not really,” Washington said when asked about a rivalry between the two.” When we’re out there, we’re in the same group. We help each other out a lot.”
If there was one, however, it seems fair to say that Sanzenbacher might have the slight edge on his counterpart. Although both saw action early, it was Sanzenbacher who had the more extended role in the OSU offense last year.
The Toledo, Ohio, native also finished the year ahead of Washington both statistically and mentally. His 12 catches for 89 yards were fourth-best among the wideouts, and he saw action in 12 games. Washington hauled in a 37-yard touchdown strike from departed quarterback Antonio Henton against the Penguins but finished the year with just three catches for 46 yards.
Washington’s touchdown also came in the same game as Sanzenbacher’s lone score, but Sanzenbacher’s came first.
Sanzenbacher saw 89 minutes of action last year, nearly four times as much as Washington (27). That experience is still paying off for Sanzenbacher, he said, as he works to better understand the whole offense. Last season, Sanzenbacher had memorized the entire playbook before fall camp began.
“I feel like I’ve tried to work on that probably more than anything, just the whole knowledge of what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said. “I feel like anywhere that’s going to give you an advantage, because if you go out there and you know what you’re going to do before you even have to go out there and do it.”
Owing to that extra experience, OSU wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said Sanzenbacher has a leg up on Washington heading into the 2008 season.
“They’re completely different players,” Hazell said. “Taurian’s is probably a little more raw than Dane is right now. He’s got tremendous upside. Dane’s got probably a little bit better grasp right now of the offense. I think that in terms of ability, both bring something really good to the table.”
Sanzenbacher is working as the primary backup to returning starter Brian Hartline, while Washington is studying behind Brian Robiskie. Washington said he views himself as perhaps more of a downfield threat, while Sanzenbacher’s abilities lend themselves more to being a possession-type wideout.
It’s all part of the differences between the two, Sanzenbacher said.
“I think we’re obviously going to be lumped together just because we were both receivers that came in at the same time,” Sanzenbacher said. “Besides that, in the first game we both caught a touchdown. I can see that. As far as our styles, they’re a little bit different but I can understand why people would lump us together.”
Sanzenbacher might have the greater following, however. The product of Toledo Central Catholic boasts a fan club on social networking Web site Facebook.com that claims 354 members, while Washington does not have one.
While the two get along, they are not the best of friends according to Washington.
“The relationship is great,” he said. “We came in in the same class. Our relationship is just like anybody else’s on the team: We are all brothers. It’s a family.
“There’s not a real, real close relationship, but it’s close enough that if I see him and he needs help, I’d be there to help him just like he’d be there to help me.”
That relationship might be important this season, but it will become even greater in the coming years as they ascend the depth chart and take on larger leadership roles at OSU. Wherever one goes, the other will likely not be far behind.
“I kind of do feel like that,” Washington said. “After a couple years, it’s going to be me and him as the top guys in our class.”