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49ers Notebook: Mohamed Sanu’s homecoming, and what went wrong in New England

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The 49ers are at nearly the tail-end of their time at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, as they prepare for their second-straight matchup in East Rutherford. With the spate of injuries, particularly along the defensive line, the faces of Ziggy Ansah and Dion Jordan are coming into focus.

Mohamed Sanu returns home, explains failure in New England

Before Mohamed Sanu was traded from the Atlanta Falcons to the New England Patriots in the middle of last season for a second-round pick, the 49ers were trying to acquire him. The price became too high, and in hindsight, it was a move which worked out only for the 49ers.

In eight games with the Patriots, Sanu caught just 26 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown.

The culture in New England is notoriously buttoned-up. It’s not fun. The 49ers, however, though serious in their preparation, obviously don’t take themselves do too seriously. Every practice is filled with music blasted in from the far sideline, and players like Kendrick Bourne are always dancing at some point.

It’s a pretty clear balance between enjoying the reality of playing football and the seriousness of the job at hand. Sanu, who pointed to Bourne as a “big ball of energy… fun to be around,” said the atmosphere in Santa Clara is much more in-line with what he seeks as a person.

“I feel like [New England] just wasn’t a good fit,” Sanu said. “Things happen the way they happen, and I’m not really looking to the past. I’m just focused on what I’ve got here in San Fran. I’m excited just to be a part of this team. This culture is just more my style. I’m excited for it. I’m just taking full advantage. I’m grateful for my time in New England. It taught me a lot. It just didn’t gel out how I wanted.”

That culture is defined by Shanahan, the Yeezy, wearing, hip-hop loving head coach who comes off younger than his 40 years, and named his son Carter, after Lil Wayne. Sanu expressed satisfaction at being reunited with his former offensive coordinator in Atlanta, and said he was impressed by seeing him in a head coaching role.

But he’s also had a genuine homecoming on the East Coast. Sanu, who grew up in Sayreville, New Jersey before moving to his parents’ native Sierra Leone, and then returned to Dayton, New Jersey, was a star athlete at South Brunswick High School. He committed to Rutgers University, by far the largest Division I school in the state (now a member of the Big 10), where he was named First-team All Big East.

He said it’s “been a minute” since he was actually in New Jersey, where his mother recently returned to from Sierra Leone. Due to COVID restrictions, he hasn’t been able to see his family, but reminisced with K’Waun Williams, a Paterson, New Jersey product, on the homecoming in the state where the 49ers are preparing to play their second-straight game.

The team practice before Sunday’s game in Jersey City, which is just across the water from Manhattan, and is roughly between Williams’ Paterson (to the northeast) and Sanu’s Dayton (to the southwest).

“It’s been cool being back in Jersey City,” Sanu said. “I was talking with K’Waun, we were on the bus on the way to walkthroughs like, ‘Man, it’s good to see the mom and pop stores, seeing the concrete jungle, because that’s where we grew up in.'”

Ziggy Ansah, Dion Jordan and the new-look D-line

The 49ers are going from Nick Bosa and Dee Ford to Ziggy Ansah and Dion Jordan. That’s not great. Much like Javon Kinlaw, the 49ers’ first impression of Ansah, listed at 6’5″, 275 pounds, is that he’s, well, large.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh didn’t say exactly how he’d be used, but he will clearly have a substantial role on Sunday. Through the first two weeks, no 49ers defensive lineman has played less than 27 percent of defensive snaps (Kevin Givens, Week 1). Without Bosa, Ford and Solomon Thomas, it’s all the more likely that the frequency of the rotation increases.

“He’s a very large human,” said defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. “I was surprised when I first saw him. I was like, ‘Geez, almighty, he’s big.’ For him, it’s just, again, he hasn’t played in a little while. He hasn’t had a training camp, so expectation for him is to go out and maximize every rep that he gets. Then we’ll continue from there, but he looks good. He’s big, he’s powerful. He looks like he’s in really good shape. So, I’m excited for him to get the opportunities he’s earned and hopefully it leads to something more for him.”

Saleh did mention that this is a new scheme for Ansah, which means, “… you’re going to have some limitations there.”

Jordan, the former third overall pick in 2013 with 10.5 career sacks, had a noticeably poor training camp. He said he was fine with being kept on the practice squad and believed in Shanahan and general manager John Lynch’s plan, which he said prioritized him taking care of his body. Jordan hadn’t participated in a training camp since his rookie year, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.

“It was different for me it,” Jordan said. “It was my first camp in a while. I had to learn technique, I had to learn the plays… I believe I’m ready. It’s not my first football game. And also I’m not playing by myself. It’s 10 other guys, like three other defensive linemen who are really, really good. I’m gonna just do my part to the best of my ability.”

Other notes: Jason Verrett, Trent Williams’ speed and confidence in Nick Mullens

  • Saleh said Jason Verrett, who has participated in practice in full for each of the last two days, after not practicing at all the first two weeks, is a “full go.” Given that he doesn’t play special teams, there’s some question as to how he’ll be utilized, perhaps in dime (two safeties, four corners) personnel. He said thus far he’s been impressed with him.

“He looks really good,” Saleh said. “He feels really good. He’s saying all the right things. His vibe has been awesome. I’ve got to go in and watch the tape to see how today’s practice was exactly for him and obviously talk to Kyle about what the choices are and options are with regards to him on game day, but he looks good. If he can continue stacking up days, it’ll be a matter of time before he gets his opportunity.”

  • Trent Williams is fast. How fast? According to center Ben Garlandwho said the offensive linemen track their speeds with the mini-GPS systems attached to players’ jerseys, Williams gets up to 18-19 miles per hour.

“That man is fast,” Garland said. “He’s blazing… We always try to compete with him and try and match his speeds… He’s moving.”

  • It continues to appear like Nick Mullens will start for the 49ers this week. George Kittle praised him in typical Kittle fashion.

“Same old Nick that I saw in 2018, he’s locked in,” Kittle said. “He’s got the game plan down. He’s got a rocket for an arm, he’s slinging it. He’s confident. I know he’s just excited to get the opportunity to play. If he gets to play, I know he’s gonna take advantage of that situation because that dude loves football.”


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