There was a lot of talk — again — about A.J. Jenkins before Tuesday’s minicamp practice in Santa Clara. Before you groan and shake your fist, this time it was all good things! It all started when offensive coordinator Greg Roman told reporters that the 2012 first-rounder had his best two days of practice last week during OTAs.
“Wednesday and Thursday, he made some clutch catches when we were moving the ball,” Roman said. “Did all the right things, made plays when he had the opportunity and he needs to continue doing that.”
The first question Jim Harbaugh faced was about Roman’s comments. The San Francisco 49ers head coach went even further in his praise than Roman, in that he didn’t limit Jenkins’ practice greatness to just two days.
“I thought A.J. had his best week of football since he’s been a 49er,” Harbaugh said.
The media was allowed to watch Tuesday’s session of OTAs only, so we’ll have to take Roman’s word for it that Jenkins performed well later in the week. Nothing he did stood out to me during the practice we saw, although he did catch a couple passes that day during 11-on-11 drills.
Jenkins faced scrutiny from the moment he was drafted by the 49ers. Size and strength were clearly an issue from the start, but his inability to jump ahead of the veteran receivers on the depth chart might have had more to do with experience. And experience isn’t just about knowing cornerbacks’ tendencies, or how to run a route or block. The other receivers on the roster know that a huge part of being professional is being mentally prepared. Translation: you have to study … a lot.
Based on Jenkins’ answer to a question I had about how long it took him to fully grasp the playbook, I’m skeptical that he put in the extra work required for a rookie who’s interested in making an impact quickly.
“It took me a while, because I wasn’t used to so many plays. They install, like, every single day. The constant intall. If you don’t know what’s going on the previous day, there’s (plays to) install the very next day. So you’re kind of behind because you don’t really know what’s going on. Your mind kind of wanders off a little bit,” Jenkins said.
I followed up by asking, “So was it an adjustment in terms of the class work you had to do?
“Yeah, it’s kind of like school all over again. You’ve got to constantly study the playbook. You’ve got to constantly study everything,” he said.
Some fans were vocal in their displeasure when Jenkins didn’t rush to Atlanta to train with Colin Kaepernick the very second the 49ers’ quarterback arrived in February. But Jenkins did make the trip, and similar to what Vernon Davis said a couple weeks ago, Jenkins spoke about the importance of a receiver spending time off the field with the guy throwing the ball.
“Never really hung out with him outside of football. Just chilling with him, staying with him, getting to know who he is and him know who I am as a person,” said Jenkins, who appreciated the chance to build that “chemistry” and “bond.” He also mentioned that they worked in the classroom together, which is probably the most important theme. If Jenkins didn’t have the physical tools to be an NFL wide receiver, the 49ers wouldn’t have considered drafting him, let alone with their first pick in 2012.
This would seem to be fantastic news. If Jenkins’ problems were caused by poor study habits, those can be changed a lot quicker than speed, strength or physical dimensions.
However, this may be a bit on the optimistic side, because the 49ers have a vested interest in getting the media off Jenkins’ back. The 49ers don’t have many distractions or dents in the Harbaalke shield, but a first round pick who’s on the verge of getting the “bust” label is certainly a sore spot. I’ll put it this way … Roman and Harbaugh both spent portions of their respective media sessions complimenting Jenkins, and Jenkins was one of only three players brought out afterward for interviews (the others were Nnamdi Asomugha and B.J. Daniels).
Harbaugh is generally a pretty optimistic person with big visions for his team and players. In talking about Jenkins, he effectively said two things: the sky’s the limit, and there’s far more pressure on Jenkins going into his second season than he faced immediately after getting drafted.
“Anybody that’s gone from year one to year two, it’s a great window of opportunity to improve in the kind of fashion that you’ll never have again in your career. Because you’re going from doing things for the first time to now, everything you do, you’ve already done. Big strides can be made that way,” Harbaugh said.