Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

49ers rave about WR Mohamed Sanu: ‘He’s looking (expletive) good, man’

Jul 28, 2021 at 1:33 PM--

Will 2021 mark a return to form for 49ers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu?

It certainly sounds possible, based on what 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, and head coach Kyle Shanahan said about the ten-year veteran on Wednesday.

Sanu and the 49ers had their first training camp practice of the year on Wednesday, after which he became a popular topic of discussion. Garoppolo in particular had a colorful reaction when the subject of Sanu came up during a post-practice media session.

"He's looking f****** good man," Garoppolo said convincingly. "Excuse the language, but he really is. He came in ready."

Samuel shared Garoppolo's enthusiasm about Sanu during his media session while skipping out on the profanity.

"He looked different," Samuel said. "He always had the good hands. He just looked fluid in and out of breaks and more locked in. He's going to be able to help us do what we have to do this year."

It would have been easy to write off Sanu this season based on how things went for him in 2019 and 2020. Sanu was coming off over three successful seasons with the Atlanta Falcons (225 catches, 2,507 yards, 14 touchdowns in 53 games) when he was traded to the New England Patriots halfway through the 2019 season for a second-round draft pick. But the trade turned out to be a bust for the Patriots, who wound up cutting him the following summer after getting just 26 catches from him for 207 yards and one touchdown in eight games. The 49ers added Sanu to the roster early in the 2020 season, but he lasted just three games and caught one pass for nine yards. He resurfaced in Detroit late in 2020, catching 16 passes for 178 yards and one touchdown in seven games.

The 49ers and Sanu reconnected this spring, and they decided to bring him back on a one-year deal. He told the 49ers at the time he was ready to rebound, and so far he's proving that to be correct.

"Sanu told us he's good to go and we believed him," said Shanahan, who was Sanu's offensive coordinator in Atlanta in 2016. "We got him here in OTAs and you could see it. I think you ask our players and anybody who's watched him, he looks like the guy I remember and not the guy we had for that week and a half or whatever it was and looked great today too. So hopefully he can keep it up and keep it going."

So what went wrong for Sanu over the past two seasons, and why are things different for him so far in 2021? Chalk it up to health and offseason preparation.

"I think he's in such a better spot," Shanahan said. "I knew Sanu so well from my year with him in Atlanta. We studied him hard when that trade went down. We were looking into him and Emmanuel (Sanders), and New England wound up getting Sanu. He was at the top of his game then. He had such a bad high ankle sprain that last year in New England, then went into COVID. We didn't get him until I want to say Week 1 and he just wasn't quite the same yet. I think that happened with a lot of guys who didn't get to do the same stuff in COVID. When guys don't get to go through offseason OTAs and offseason training camp, they don't know why, but there's just something missing."

After an impressive spring and an offseason of work, Sanu told the DNP-CD Sports Podcast recently that he's never felt better.

"I would say this is the best that I've felt physically, I've ever felt in my entire life," Sanu said. "I'm not just saying that because that's what everybody says. It's because it's true. I've put in a lot of work, diligent work, to make sure my body, my mind, everything's focused and one."

A healthy and resurgent Sanu would be a big boost for the 49ers, who enter the season with some uncertainty depth-wise at wide receiver. The opportunity is there for the 31-year-old Sanu to fill an important role behind Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and he'd also provide a valuable leadership presence as well.

"I think when you have a guy in there who's done it and done it in a few places and who does it the right way, those are guys the guys respect," Shanahan said. "It's always good to have someone they can go to to ask questions. You don't want the coaches always pushing people. Eventually you push your son so much they stop listening. You have to get the neighbors down to go coach them and they'll listen to them. That's what you like with some veteran players they respect. But if they don't respect them, that can backfire on you too."

Samuel made it clear he and Aiyuk would appreciate having Sanu around this season, saying he gave the 49ers the same type of leadership they received in 2019 from Emmanuel Sanders.

"Me and BA were kind of upset last year when they cut Sanu because he was the vet in the room," Samuel said. "He'd been in there for a while. He teaches us the ins and outs of the game, not only just football. But kind of what Emmanuel was when Emmanuel was here. That's what we have with Sanu."

There's still over a month of time left before the 49ers have to cut their roster to 53 players (August 31), so there's still much that could happen in the competition for roster spots at receiver. But after listening to the 49ers talk about Sanu on Wednesday, it's safe to assume he's an early favorite to make the final cut.

"To me, it looked like he was the Sanu he was when he was in Atlanta," Samuel said. "He looked really good."

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