A year ago at this time, Dane Sanzenbacher already was on his way toward first-team reps in the Bears' first padded practice of training camp -- pretty good for an undrafted free agent whom the Bears had signed two days before training camp because of the NFL lockout.
But even after an impressive rookie season in which he caught 27 passes for 276 yards in limited play and still led all Bears wide receivers with three touchdowns, Sanzenbacher is almost back where he started: on the roster bubble, trying to ''do something they're going to remember.''
In fact, Sanzenbacher might be facing an even tougher task this season since the Bears have upgraded their wide receiver corps. Last year he had to beat out Andy Fantuz, Kris Adams, Onrea Jones and Jimmy Young for a roster spot. This year, even with Johnny Knox likely out for the season, he might have to beat out kick returners Devin Thomas or Eric Weems. Thomas' speed gives him an edge with Knox out. Weems' special-teams ability makes him tough to cut.
''It's going to be tough,'' Sanzenbacher said. ''[But] I can only control what I can control in the end. You just have to take it one day at a time, keep your head down and work.''
Sanzenbacher does have the year of NFL experience to lean on. And while he's only 5-11, he has the quickness and know-how to adapt to any offense. He's not wasting time ruing the unfortunate circumstances that have put him back to Square One with the Bears.
''It's totally on my shoulders. If I don't make the team, it's on me,'' he said. ''It's not because of unfortunate circumstances or a roster breakdown. It's going to be because I didn't do a job. It's my job to give them a reason to keep me.''
Sanzenbacher, who wasn't quite as sure-handed as he was expected to be last year, will have to make the most of likely limited opportunities in training camp. He's never talked to new general manager Phil Emery and doesn't know what he likes or doesn't like in a wide receiver. But he's buoyed by the knowledge that ''he's going to keep the guys who help him win games.''
That's all Sanzenbacher needs to know. And if he doesn't make the Bears' roster, there were enough teams interested in him as an undrafted free agent last year and enough tape from last year's regular season that another team likely is keeping an eye on him at the Bears' training camp.
His job in this camp isn't too complicated.
''We can over talk it, but it's a simple formula,'' Sanzenbacher said. ''Get open, catch the ball and the guys want you here.''