SANTA CLARA — Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ first day as a 49er added fuel to not only the offense but the franchise’s positive energy, and it could lead to Sanders making his third Super Bowl with his third franchise.
“I’ve got two more years left or three more years left playing football and trying to win a championship,” the ex-Bronco Sanders said. “They have a young locker room over there (in Denver). We made the decision if a trade comes about, (Broncos GM John Elway) would keep me posted and possibly trade me.”
Tuesday came the trade, for a third- and fourth-round draft pick to Denver while the 49ers got a 10th-year veteran with playoff credentials, as well as a 2020 fifth-round pick.
Here are the first things to know about Sanders’ first day:
Sanders will wear No. 17, which he gladly bought off rookie Jalen Hurd, who wore it in the 49ers’ first two exhibitions.
Hurd is switching to No. 14, assuming he makes his NFL debut once he comes off injured reserve. He was placed there last month because of a stress reaction in his back. Hurd, like fellow receiver Trent Taylor, has had a health setback so there’s no guarantee he or Taylor will play in 2019.
Sanders previously wore No. 17 in college at Southern Methodist. He wore No. 10 with the Denver Broncos, but that number is taken by his quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo. Sanders donned No. 88 in his initial four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that has been tight end Garrett Celek’s property since his 2012 arrival on the 49ers.
Coach Kyle Shanahan called it a “cram job” to get Sanders up to speed in the 49ers’ offense, starting with Wednesday’s practice and leading to his 49ers debut Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
Sanders arrived in Santa Clara about 9 p.m. Tuesday, studied the iPad playbook until about 11:30, got up for his physical at 5 a.m. and soon after began meeting his teammates.
Because the Broncos installed a similar offense this year under new coordinator and former 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello, Sanders said “90 percent” looks the same but he must learn “10 percent” of the terminology and verbiage.
WHERE HE’LL PLAY
Sanders can line up on the outside but he also can thrive in the slot, where the 49ers are thin without Taylor or Hurd.
“He has the ability to do all three (positions),” Shanahan said. “Wherever we fit him in – we have an idea – we’ll settle that on Sunday. He can play outside, inside, he can do it all.”
Shanahan first praised Sanders’ ability to gain separation, and that is critical in the slot. “He’s been wired to get down field but he can also break you off inside,” Shanahan added. “Not the biggest guy (5-foot-11) but he plays big. … He can go over the middle and not flinch.”
Shanahan declined to say which wide receivers’ playing time will diminish. Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin, the incumbent starters, led the receiver drills to start Wednesday’s practice while Sanders ran the anchor leg.
HIS BRONCOS EXIT
Elway cryptically referred to the Broncos’ Oct. 13 “Tennessee game” that doomed Sanders’ tenure. Sanders said a knee injury kept him from playing after halftime, and then he had a frank talk with Elway, and they mutually agreed that a trade would be bets.
“Obviously I’ve got a lot of love for the Broncos, I spent six years there, won a Super Bowl there, and I love the organization,” Sanders said. “The 49ers, it reminds me of when I left the Steelers (in 2014) and went to the Broncos.
“I needed a change of scenery and it feels good to have one. What a great locker room the 49ers have. I’m trying to come and more positive energy and bring another spark to this offense.”
CONNECTING WITH JIMMY G
Garoppolo said he initially met Sanders after the 49ers’ joint practices in Denver this summer. “He’s a cool, normal dude, just down to Earth and you love to have that,” said Garoppolo, who first heard of Tuesday’s trade from his brother and then quickly called up Sanders’ highlight videos.
“If you give him a chance on the ball, he’ll make you look good,” Garoppolo said. “Just getting him in space, giving him opportunities to showcase his talents. He’s fast, gets out and cuts quickly, runs good routes and so all those things. It’s exciting.”
Sanders said of Garoppolo: “Jimmy’s cool. Jimmy’s just like Kyle: cool, but at the end of day, they’re all about the business.” Sanders raved about the Garoppolo’s cadence and tempo during practice, as well as his energy. “It was good to see. I’m big energy guy and I feed off energy. His energy is definitely contagious,” Sanders said.
Although Garoppolo told the media that their trust will develop through reps, Sanders downplayed the urgency to spark chemistry. “If it’s an 18-yard comeback and he’s throwing ball where it’s supposed to be, it will naturally happen. It shouldn’t take too long,” Sanders said.
When Sanders couldn’t reach a pass in Wednesday’s warmups, he returned to try again, and this time caught Garoppolo’s pass in his speedy stride.
Shanahan has eyed Sanders since he came out of SMU in 2010, and Sanders first took notice of Shanahan’s capabilities with the 2016 Atlanta Falcons’ run to the Super Bowl.
“Getting here and seeing how he is, he’s a laid-back, funny guy, light on his toes,” Sanders said. “In the team meeting, I was like, ‘I can’t wait to get home and tell my wife that the head coach is wearing Yeezys.’ That’s cool. This is one cool coach.
“The environment here is so light. But we have concentration and are focused on the task at hand. His team is a reflection of him and it’s cool to see.”
The day after Sanders tore his Achilles last December, cornerback Richard Sherman was on the phone telling him about the road to recovery. While Sherman’s comeback last year was complicated by irritating sutures, Sanders said he had no such issues. He maximized his rehabilitation, got proper rest, did not drink alcohol and, voila, “I was able to come back a lot faster than people expected.”