Julio Jones leaves Atlanta Falcons practice early with a minor injury
FLOWERY BRANCH — Newcomer Mohamed Sanu wouldn’t be “remiss or a fool” to say he didn’t have a chip on his shoulder entering Atlanta Falcons Training Camp on Thursday.
“I’m a man, I’ve got pride. So I got a lot to prove to myself and to a lot of people down here saying I can’t do something. ...You know I got a lot to prove,” said Sanu, who signed a hefty five-year deal worth $32.5 million despite recording just 33 catches and no touchdowns in 2015.
Sanu is projected to fill the No. 2 slot once owned by the franchise’s leading wideout Roddy White, with Justin Hardy not too far behind in the conversation. So far, the outlook looks promising for the four-year veteran as his already blossoming chemistry with quarterback Matt Ryan went on full display with numerous connections in-stride on the practice field.
“There’s been a lot of work put in between Matt (Ryan) and the receivers,” second-year Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “They went away before we even started. All the OTA’s, the mini camps, and they have gotten together during their time away from here. So it’s not a big surprise to see that communication pick up in a good spot.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound receiver has high hopes he will bring more balance to a Falcons’ passing game which saw star Julio Jones snare 33 percent of the targets — 136 balls with 1,871 yards and eight touchdowns. Running back Devonta Freeman finished behind Jones with 73 catches and three touchdowns, followed by tight end Jacob Tamme with 59 catches for 657 yards and a score. Jones topped the league in targets with 204 in 2015 as well.
Jones left Thursday’s practice with a minor injury, but is expected to be back on the field Friday.
As a former triple-option high school quarterback, it was jokingly suggested that Sanu could have thrown the ball to himself for more targets in Cincinnati. He was stuck sharing targets with Andy Dalton’s go-to option A.J. Green and the recently departed Marvin Jones, who signed with Detroit this offseason.
“I can’t throw the ball to myself to get more targets,” quipped Sanu. That’s just how it unfolded. I mean, we did win a lot of games up there, and it’s up to the coaches to determine that.”
The Bengals (12-4) tied the franchise record in wins with 12 to take the AFC North title in 2015, though lost their fifth consecutive wildcard playoff game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 18-16, in what was a bizarre penalty-marred contest.
Although putting up unimpressive numbers in 2015 — most of the looks going to redzone monster Tyler Eifert with 13 touchdowns, an NFL high among tight ends — Sanu is still ready to bring his aggression and physicality to the Falcons offense, in whatever role that may be.
“It’s about embracing your role,” said Sanu. “I’m gonna embrace my role and learn what I can from it. When I know it’s my time, I’m gonna make sure to take advantage of it. And when it’s Julio’s time, I’m gonna make sure to set a block or I’m gonna do my job to make sure he gets open, or vice versa.
"It’s all about working hard and collaborating to make sure, you know, we are setting each other up,” he added.
As for the pressure of competing for looks opposite of Julio Jones, to Sanu, there’s no such thing. After all, the new arrival to Atlanta’s receiving group describes his own demeanor to be “as cool as the other side of the pillow” most days.
But when it’s time to go, you don’t want to be in his way.
“You make pressure on yourself. ...I don’t think pressure is a big thing,” said Sanu. “It’s about how you come out here and just do work, prepare, there’s no such thing as pressure really.”
Relationships are very important to Sanu. He said the camaraderie with Jones, second-year Justin Hardy and Ryan continues to build everyday.
“Me and Julio are getting closer by the day,” he said. He’s (Julio) a great person, and I feel he’s a better person than athlete — and he’s a tremendous athlete, tremendous receiver.
“The Wolf (Hardy), he’s dope too. I love the Wolf. He’s very similar to me, chill, laid back. But the one thing I love about Hardy is he works his tail off. And that’s what I can say about all the receivers. We all have that thing where we working for each other, work for our brother.”