San Francisco Chronicle

In return, Sanu vows to stick around

- By Eric Branch Eric Branch covers the 49ers for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: ebranch@sfchronicl­ Twitter: @Eric_Branch

Cornerback Jason Verrett said Mohamed Sanu has looked “damn good” in training camp. And quarterbac­k Jimmy Garoppolo was more emphatic, saying the 49ers wide receiver was “looking fing good” this summer.

Standard trainingca­mp hype? It’s possible. But it’s definitely accurate to say this: Sanu, 31, looks far better than he did during his forgettabl­e, cupofcoffe­e stint with the 49ers last year.

Sanu spoke with reporters Friday for the first time since he resigned with the 49ers in late March. The transactio­n didn’t receive much attention because the nineyear veteran appeared to be deep in the twilight of his 420catch career when he was last in Santa Clara: Last season, after he’d been cut by the Patriots before Week 1, Sanu had one catch while playing 40 snaps in three games for the 49ers before he was released in early October.

But as he entered the auditorium Friday, Sanu, noticeably slimmer than he was in 2020, had just finished a nonpadded practice in which he’d had a teambest five receptions. Sanu’s highlight play came when he held onto an intraffic downfield pass from Garoppolo despite being decked by free safety Jimmie Ward. Fittingly, the practice ended with Sanu grabbing a pass from QB Josh Rosen on an intermedia­te crossing route.

Sanu, who had 66 catches for a careerbest 838 yards in 2018, acknowledg­ed he has come a long way since his release by the 49ers in October, which came as no surprise.

“I understood,” Sanu said. “I’m a football player and I have common sense, too. I’m a realist. If I was at my best and they cut me, then I would have been (upset). But I wasn’t. And I knew that. So I had to go and get right and take advantage of the next opportunit­y.”

It appears Sanu, who has played for four teams the past two seasons, has a golden opportunit­y to show he’s got something left. For starters, the 49ers don’t have a wide receiver who is a slam dunk to make the 53man roster beyond starters Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. Not including Sanu, their nine other receivers have combined for 403 catches, 17 fewer than Sanu’s career total.

In addition, Sanu has a fan in head coach Kyle Shanahan, his offensive coordinato­r in Atlanta in 2016. The 49ers tried to acquire Sanu at the 2019 trade deadline, but were outbid by the Patriots, who gave up a secondroun­d pick. Sanu said Shanahan had previously tried to trade for him, but he had been rebuffed by the Falcons. Sanu reached out to Shanahan before the 49ers brought him back in March and told him he was a far better place than he’d been in 2020.

“When a guy you know and respect calls you, you trust him,” Shanahan said. “And you give him an opportunit­y. And he came in and he’s been everything he said.”

Sanu’s nosedive began when he suffered a severe high ankle sprain shortly after he was acquired by the Patriots in 2019. He played through the injury, but he was ineffectiv­e: Sanu managed 26 catches (47 targets) for 207 yards in eight games with New England, then had ankle surgery after the season.

“I shouldn’t have played on it,” Sanu said. “But I was traded for a secondroun­d pick. I just wanted to show, ‘Hey, you guys have a tough competitor who’s going to do everything he can to compete for you.’ That ended up backfiring.”

Sanu had surgery in March 2020, began training camp with New England on the physically unable to perform list and admitted he didn’t prepare himself for his next opportunit­y after the Patriots released him. The 49ers signed him 15 days later but Sanu “wasn’t in the best shape that I needed to be at,” he said.

Nearly a year later, however, Sanu appears poised to stick in Santa Clara. That is, as long as he keeps looking damn good.

“It looks like the guy I remember, and not the guy that we had for those” three weeks last year Shanahan said. “So, hopefully, he can keep it up.”

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