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Sanu plays big for Falcons


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Sanu plays big for Falcons

By Michael Cunningham - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Mohamed Sanu is a big wide receiver, and Falcons coach Dan Quinn wanted him to play like it. So in his second exhibition game with the Falcons, Sanu showed how he might cause problems as another imposing wide receiver to complement Julio Jones.

Sanu had three catches for 45 yards against the Browns on Thursday night, and about 13 of them came after hapless defensive backs made contact.

“Quinn told me to come out and play physical and play tough out there, so that’s what I did,” Sanu said.

The Browns can attest to it. Each time Sanu caught one of Matt Ryan’s passes he seemed to be looking for defenders to take on and push aside.

“He’s definitely a physical guy,” Jones said. “He doesn’t shy away from contact. He’s aggressive and he’s got great speed and a lot of power, and he showed it tonight.”

Jones may be the most complete wide receiver in the NFL. He’s 6-foot-3 and more than 220 pounds, making him tough to tackle. Yet Jones is athletic, quick in short spaces and fast down field.

Sanu can’t hope to match Jones’ talent, but he’s nearly as big (6-2, 210) and he’s athletic in his own right. Two first-quarter plays against the Browns highlighted his strengths.

Sanu caught a pass from Ryan at the Falcons’ 29-yard line, and cornerback Jamar Taylor immediately hit him high from behind. Sanu shook Taylor off while taking a couple of steps backward, used a stiff-arm to fend off safety Ibraheim Campbell and then dragged safety Jordan Poyer another couple of yards before finally getting pushed out of bounds.

TV audio picked up the enthusiastic reaction from Sanu’s teammates on the sidelines.

“I thought he did a nice job of making plays after the ball was in his hands, fighting for every yard that he could get,” Ryan said. “I think he’s a talented guy. I think he’s a strong guy, and he did a nice job for us.”

Sanu had a 32-yard reception later in the game during which he showed impressive hands, acceleration and agility.

After a holding call against Sanu put the Falcons in a second-and-20, he broke free across the middle and caught Ryan’s pass at the 22-yard line. Sanu quickly turned up field got up to top speed as Browns defenders were too slow to cut off the angle.

Sanu crashed through and leaped over a low tackle attempt by Campbell at the 45 before pulling Poyer two more yards across midfield.

“That was exactly what you can see from him,” Quinn said. “You saw that play come to life with the aggressive hands on the catch and then he can turn up field. That’s what we call ‘receivers in transition,’ how fast they can pluck it and then get the ball security. Short plays that turn longer. The (toughness), the way he wanted to compete, he really demonstrated that.”

When the Falcons signed Sanu, much of the discussion centered on the $14 million guaranteed in his contract. The Falcons paid him big money in spite of his relative lack of production and status over four seasons with the Bengals.

Certainly Sanu is less accomplished than his predecessor, Roddy White, who is the best wide receiver in team history. But Sanu is younger, bigger and more athletic than White, whose ability to gain yards after contact had diminished.

The Falcons’ first-team offense rebounded from a poor showing in the exhibition opener, and Sanu played a big part in the turnaround.

“I think we did phenomenal,” Sanu said. “We came out, we played hard, competed and played physical. We went out there and executed the best that we could.”

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Campbell's open-field tackle on 3'rd down was my play of the game last week. The one that got me jumping up and cheering, excited for the season. Sanu's play where he stiff-armed the defender for about ten seconds was mine this game. He backed it up with a great block the very next play too, I believe. Loved Sanu's play this game.

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