Bengals experimenting with Mohamed Sanu's role ... and it's a good idea
Mohamed Sanu caught 16 passes as a little-used rookie in 2012, then bumped that total to 47 last season. Hardly anything to sneeze at considering Sanu was a Round 3 draft pick and, at 24, still has time to improve.
That 47-reception performance is somewhat misleading, though. Sanu found the end zone just twice despite starting 14 times for the Bengals. He averaged a mere 9.7 yards per catch, the 119th-best mark among players who saw enough action to qualify for the league-leaders board. By the time Cincinnati bowed out to San Diego in the postseason, Sanu had slipped behind Marvin Jones on the depth chart.
He's still there now, tucked behind Jones and A.J. Green in the receiver pecking order. So new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson (the Bengals' RBs coach last year) may be willing to experiment a bit to get Sanu into the mix.
Dan Hoard of the Bengals' team website speculated that Jackson may use Sanu in a variety of ways, similar to how Jackson employed Marcel Reese back when he was offensive coordinator and later head coach in Oakland. That includes implementing Sanu in formations that would be atypical for a receiver
"He’s got me doing some stuff," Sanu told Hoard. "I love it. I’m embracing it and I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that I’m the best at it."
Reece's usage in the Oakland offense actually increased after Jackson exited following the 2011 season -- he averaged 23.5 carries and 27 catches from 2010-11; he's at 52.5 carries and 42 catches per year since then. But the Raiders still use Reece as more than just a fullback or backup tailback.
Pictured below are a pair of shots from Oakland's 2013 game vs. Tennessee. On the left, Reece is about to receive a direct snap out of a wildcat formation (QB Matt McGloin motioned out of the backfield to Reece's right). And on the right, Reece is offset well to McGloin's right in the backfield, almost occupying a slot position. The latter play featured a quick screen out to Reece.
Now, Reece weighs in at 255 pounds, so the 210-pound Sanu will be limited from some of the duties Reece took on -- i.e. Sanu won't be used as a lead blocker, unless it's by accident or on a screen out wide. But if the goal is to utilize Sanu without simply dropping him onto the field as a slot receiver, then it certainly would make sense for Jackson to mix and match a bit.
"I’m uncommon because I can do a lot of different things and play a lot of different positions," Sanu said. "I have a lot of different talents, but it’s up to me to show it."
Cincinnati already boasts a great deal of versatility at running back with Gio Bernard, workhorse BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Jeremy Hill. Taking away touches from a player like Bernard to give them to the less-explosive Sanu might be a counterproductive approach.
Incorporating some exotic offensive looks, however, might spice up a Bengals attack that at times can become rather vanilla. The reasons for that range from play calling to Andy Dalton's limitations. If nothing else, it's smart of Jackson to test out what he has during these early-summer workouts, to see if Sanu or Brandon Tate or even Cobi Hamilton can emerge as an option in the offense. Sanu has been decent but perfectly ordinary through his first two NFL seasons. Sliding him from the No. 2 receiver spot to a Reece-esque, Swiss Army knife-type role has a chance to work, if only to allow Jackson to have A.J. Green, Jones and Sanu on the field together more often.