At a time of year in which players spend most of their energy refining the little things, what’s a guy like Dane Sanzenbacher to do?
Since arriving at Ohio State, the Toledo Central Catholic product has drawn plaudits from wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell for his ability to do those little things well. They earned him playing time as a freshman in 2007 – when Sanzenbacher completed OSU’s first drive of the season with a touchdown catch – and have served him well in his ascension to a starting role.
Now, going into his senior season, it would seem like Sanzenbacher would have spent enough time on the finer parts of being a receiver that there are simply not very many places to improve.
Not so, Hazell said.
“He can get better,” the seventh-year receivers coach said. “He has to work on second-level releases and those types of things, but he’s got a chance to be really special for us this year.”
When a receiver gets to a point at which the first thing a coach can think of to work on is second-level releases, it’s clear he’s got the nature of the position down pat. But don’t expect Sanzenbacher to take that fact for granted as he completes his final spring practice as a co-starter with DeVier Posey on an Ohio State team expected to go far in 2010.
“You’d be surprised by how many little things there are,” Sanzenbacher said with a laugh. “There are always things you can work on to get better.”
Sanzenbacher and the rest of the wideouts are being put through those paces by Hazell, who runs one of the more consistently entertaining drill sets of the Buckeyes spring practices. Hazell puts his charges through tons of agility drills in each practice – all of which end with catching a football winged by the strong-armed coach – and one of his favorite exercises includes throwing a ball off the turf for the receivers to catch on a bounce.
Then there are more detail-oriented drills, such as second-level releases and the like. Thursday, Hazell was putting the receivers through an exercise in which they would duck around Chris Fields – who was inactive in a yellow jersey because of an asthma issue – 5 yards from the line, which mimics avoiding traffic over the middle. Tuesday, receivers were asked to lower shoulders and use the upper body to fight through jams presented by teammates with blocking pads.
Those are the drills in which Sanzenbacher continues to improve his craft.
“I think I’m at a point where mentally I pretty much have the offense,” Sanzenbacher said. “Nothing really stumps me too much anymore, so I think it would be a lot of the little things, little break-point things, that I have to catch.”
Any work done now could help him improve upon a solid first season as a starter in 2009. Sanzenbacher pulled in 36 catches on the year for 570 yards and six touchdowns, both of which were second on the team behind Posey. His yards-per-catch average of 15.8 was among the best in the Big Ten.
Highlights included a season-long 76-yard touchdown pass from Terrelle Pryor on the first series of OSU’s win against Toledo – a game in which he graded out at 93 percent – and an excellent Rose Bowl showing in which Sanzenbacher led the team with nine catches for 64 yards including a crucial third-down conversion during the Buckeyes’ game-clinching touchdown drive.
“I think I was able to be relatively consistent out there just being in the right place when I was needed,” he said. “We had a year where – as we saw – some games we passed the ball all the time and some games we wouldn’t pass the ball at all. I think I was doing my job whether it was in the passing game or the run game.”
Sanzenbacher spent much of the Rose Bowl lined up in the slot inside of Posey as part of the team’s game plan that included numerous double-slant patterns that found soft spots in Oregon’s coverage schemes. He’s worked in the slot at times throughout his OSU career – even taking some big hits in that role – and said he’s fine with playing there in the future as the need arises.
“I moved to that slot role (against Oregon) and I’m comfortable in there,” he said. “If we need to do that to get more guys on the field, I’m for it.”
It appears Hazell would like to continue to see Sanzenbacher line up in that fashion. One of the offseason requests from the coach was that his pupil gain some size, and he’s up five pounds to 180 on the Buckeyes’ spring roster.
“I wanted him to put on five or six extra pounds, which I think will help him in the slot, as well as with blocking and getting off of people and playing stronger,” Hazell said. “We wanted to increase his muscle size in the offseason. He’s working at it.”
Along with all of the little things.