Versatile Sanu giving Falcons a bargain as a receiver and QB
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Mohamed Sanu loves when his number is called to play quarterback in the Atlanta Falcons’ wildcat formation.
He doesn’t know if the Falcons (7-4) will line him up behind center against Minnesota (9-2) on Sunday, but he would love another chance.
“I just go into the game and whatever’s called, I run what’s called,” Sanu said Friday. “I just go out there.”
Sanu, a sixth-year NFL receiver, says he can easily throw the ball 75 yards, hard to dispute after he sailed a 51-yard touchdown pass with little effort to Julio Jones last week.
“Just being an athlete,” he said. “It’s not a mindset. You just go out and play.”
It’s probably a little more complicated than that. Sanu played quarterback in high school and took some snaps at QB during his time at Rutgers and with the Cincinnati Bengals. After lobbying last year in practice, Sanu eventually gained the trust of Falcons coach Dan Quinn and took his first snap in the wildcat, running for 5 yards against Arizona.
This season he’s had three chances. The first two were runs against Buffalo and Seattle. He finally got the opportunity to throw last week against Tampa Bay.
The situation was perfect with the Buccaneers playing Jones, a two-time All-Pro, in man coverage. The Falcons saw the chance to expose a weakness, and Sanu, after bobbling the snap, flung the ball like Matt Ryan, Atlanta’s starting quarterback and last year’s NFL MVP.
“The other times he’s run the wildcat, that look wasn’t the one to go to,” Quinn said. “It may have been called, but the look didn’t come up. It just so happened that sometimes the stars have to align correctly to have the look to go.”
Sanu has a perfect career passer rating, completing all six of his attempts, and he’s thrown three TDs. A 73-yard scoring strike to A.J. Green in 2012 covered 50 yards in the air.
The Falcons were eager to sign Sanu in March 2016. They had released Roddy White, the franchise’s career-leading receiver, eight days prior. When free agency opened, Sanu was at team headquarters the next day, agreeing to a five-year contract with $14 million guaranteed.
There were reports the Falcons overpaid for a guy who had fallen out of favor in Cincinnati, dropped too many balls and was considered more a No. 3 receiver than a No. 2. Atlanta was his only visit in free agency.
“I wasn’t worried about that,” Sanu said. “I was just worried about coming out here, playing, having fun. I’m just excited to be here. They saw it in the film. The film speaks for itself.”
The first part of last season was nothing special. It took Sanu a few games to grasp the nuances of the offense.
“It wasn’t the most seamless transition early,” Quinn said. “I’d say he really hit his stride in the middle (of the season), but we’d always liked his physical style and the attitude that he played with. In this system you better be able to block and not have a problem doing that. You better be able to win in some man-to-man matchups and the good part here is there’s (Jones) on the other side who gets some certain looks, so when your opportunity comes, can you nail it?”
In 25 games with Atlanta, Sanu has solid numbers — 104 catches for 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns. He has made some spectacular plays and filled the role of a possession receiver and a dependable option on third down.
But Sanu wants Quinn to know he can do more than catch, block and throw. Sanu says he’s also available to kick, adding that he nailed a 60-yard field goal a couple of summers ago while goofing off on the practice field at Rutgers.
“When he calls for his second group, I’m like, ‘You need me to kick, coach?’” Sanu said. “You know, just joking around, having a good time with it.”
But Quinn knows Sanu would jump at the opportunity to score some points with his foot.
“I told him that Jim Brown has all those records — touchdowns, extra points and field goals,” Quinn said. “But he’s a versatile guy and a really, really good athlete.”
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