SANTA CLARA -- Mohamed Sanu might have only spent three weeks with the 49ers in 2020, but he left a lasting impression.
Both Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk were upset when the team released the veteran receiver after only playing 40 snaps over three contests. Sanu’s one reception in Week 3 was also his only target while with the squad.
As much as Kyle Shanahan knew and respected Sanu from their time together with the Atlanta Falcons, the wideout was not playing to the level he had shown in the past. Maybe it was the mental toll of the COVID-19 pandemic or eight seasons in the league wearing on his body.
The head coach had to make the difficult decision.
On Friday, Sanu revealed he had “extensive” ankle surgery in March. Attempting to play on the injured ankle through the 2020 season was what the former Falcon thought he needed to do to prove his worth, but the decision ended up backfiring.
“When I came here, I wasn’t in the best shape that I needed to be in,” Sanu said. “I knew it wasn’t anything personal, it was how everything was panned out. I wasn’t at my best, still coming off the ankle injury, getting all the way back to myself. It was just business.”
Fully recovered from ankle surgery, Sanu reached out to Shanahan over the summer and shared that he was back in shape and ready to play. The head coach knew to take the receiver at his word and brought him back to Santa Clara to share reps with Aiyuk and Samuel.
“With him not being the best that I was used to, I was honest with him and he understood,” Shanahan said. “That’s what’s great about Mo. Mo’s a man. He doesn’t take anything personally, he knows it’s a business. When he hit us up in the summer telling us how good of shape he was in, he is a guy we believe.”
Sanu has hit the ground running, having stood out as a primary target in OTAs and again in the first few practices of training camp. Working with rookie quarterback Trey Lance during the offseason not only kept the receiver in shape but helped him build chemistry with his new teammate.
Now Sanu’s work is cut out for him. He's competing to be the slot receiver in Shanahan’s offense. The veteran has relished the competition, showing earnest confidence that is noticeable on the field. You might not notice the soft-spoken veteran at practice until you see him quickly snag a pass as he’s running across the middle of the field.
“I think we overall are competing hard,” Sanu said. “It should be fun whoever ends up being that guy and I’m sure I’m fighting for it too. We are going to do a great job. It’s the standard that we have in the room.”