Sometimes when Jim Harbaugh does press conferences, he brings up a subject that’s been irking him. Often it’s something said in the media that leads him to diverge from the standard Q&A format of most press conferences, like when he decided to answer an unrelated question with his thoughts on the 49ers’ courtship of Peyton Manning after a minicamp at the end of May.
Today Harbaugh addressed what has been written about A.J. Jenkins since the 49ers drafted the former Illinois receiver in the first round. He also talked about media access during practices, which was interesting too, but first here are his thoughts on Jenkins, from an email I received from 49ers PR:
“I just want to visit with you. I’ll be glad to take some questions afterwards. I just want to update you on the status of A.J. Jenkins, that topic. [WR] A.J. Jenkins was an outstanding football player when he got here. His progress has been very, very good and exceeded expectations. For those scribes, pundits, so called experts, who have gone as far to say that he is going to be a bust, should just stop. I recommend that because they are making themselves look more clueless than they’ve already did. To go on record, A.J.’s going to be an outstanding football player. So far in camp, what he’s done in the offseason has led us to believe nothing but that he will be an outstanding football player in the National Football League.”
That said, do you expect him to be a major contributor as a rookie?
“I expect him to have a great practice today. He has had two outstanding practices since we have been here at camp. It’s been consistent, steady improvement every time he’s come out here on the field or been in a meeting and it was already outstanding to begin with. If you recall the first day he was here, the first day we had him at the rookie minicamp, I said this is the best group of young receivers that I’ve ever been a part of in football as a player or a coach. It was good to start with. It is getting better and better each day. Yea, I’m going to keep track of some of these names of so-called experts who are making these comments, and there’s going to be an, ‘I told you so.’ I foresee that happening.”
That very first day you had mentioned about his conditioning he had been tired.
“I didn’t say his specifically. I said the group. The group of rookies. I said they would eventually get there and they are there, they are there. And A.J. Jenkins, specifically, his conditioning is tip-top. People have a tendency to paraphrase and put quotes around it. I guess that in the English language that’s grammatically correct, but it’s not very professional.”
Did you notice, was he concerned what people were saying about him?
“No, he has had a tremendous attitude. He’s not even concerned with it at all, and that’s one of the things that’s been outstanding about him.”
Do you, being around this game for a long time do you see that…
“I’m not going to tell you what to do. If you want to keep saying what you’re saying, it’s motivation, it’s fuel for all of us. I think you do it at your own peril of looking clueless.”
I guess it’s a question of patience when people want to see stuff right away, how do you…
“Those comments were made before day one, or even before we’ve had our first official training camp practice.”
How do you view a draft pick? Is it something you have to look at three, four years down the road?
“You know that’s in a nice tidy box. I said what I said, I said what I wanted to say and you can do with that information what you will.
CBS’ Kyle Bonagura questioned Harbaugh’s unexpected defense of Jenkins, based on when it occurred and other recent comments on the subject:
The timing of Harbaugh’s defense of Jenkins can be considered somewhat surprising considering in his first press conference of training camp on Friday, he was very complimentary of the team’s group of receivers. He indicated the team has five guys tied for first on the receiver depth chart, but did not include Jenkins among the group, which was made up of Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn Jr., and Kyle Williams.
Those comments could be construed to mean Jenkins doesn’t have an immediate role waiting for him and Harbaugh didn’t say anything to contradict that Sunday.
It hasn’t just been one writer/blogger who has publicly wondered whether the 49ers’ 2012 first round selection was a smart one, although some have been more vocal than others. But a precedent has been set. Harbaugh may consider many of the persons who cover the 49ers for various publications to be “clueless,” but he also gets a lot out of these press conference responses. For as angry as Harbaugh may be when he feels that the media detracts from what his staff is attempting to accomplish, it appears that Harbaugh considers his relationship with the media to be a two-way street … in a sense.
The media wants information; Harbaugh wants to send positive messages to his team, mostly in order to boost the esteem and/or reputation of players who’ve taken the most heat (see: Smith, Alex). Harbaugh considers anyone who questions the talent, makeup or potential of his players as enemies to a certain extent; reporters often bristle at the manner in which Harbaugh treats them.
One of the ways reporters feel short-shrifted is in the area of practice access. Specifically, the amount of access they receive and the area where they’re forced to stand. Harbaugh addressed that today as well.
“The other thing is I know you got some concerns about your view of the practice field. Just some information for you before you make a knee-jerk reaction with a decision without enough information. What we have out there in the grass is just enough for our football players to practice, and we have 90 guys, and to be safe. There’s a 70 yard field, there’s a 90 yard field and then they have to be able to catch the ball and run out of bounds or run out of the endzone so we don’t have the space to have football players, staff, trainers, managers, 90 of them competing with anybody else for grass space, let alone bodies or cameras, tripods, hand-held cameras. We just don’t have the space. So that really goes for all guests. We’ve lost about 60,000 square feet of grass due to the two streets that have been installed. It’s not an effort to keep the media away from the practice field or to give you a bad view of what’s going (on) out there on the field. You are allowed to be here. We welcome you here. You have a job to do. We have a job to do, but also you have to be protected, our players have to be protected and that’s the reason. If you have any questions on that, I’d be glad to answer them. And also, one other thing before I say that. I know you complained that you can’t see across the field because we have a drill going on the far field. Those fields rotate daily, where the main field, the main quadrant. So day one was there. Day two was there. Day three will be on the close field. You’ll have a bird’s eye view of most all the action. So basically you’re going to get a bird’s eye view of 50 percent of all of our practice reps out there, out there on the field.”
Since I just got back to the United States yesterday evening, I obviously haven’t covered a training camp practice. So I have no idea if things have changed since minicamp, or if there have been any specific complaints from reporters over the past week. To be frank, I’m totally behind on 49ers news in general at this point, so I don’t know what all has been written about Jenkins in recent days/weeks either. And since I’m pretty inexperienced when it comes to watching NFL practices (I’ve only covered three in my life), any access is good access. For more seasoned reporters who’ve covered multiple teams for many years, the changes that have been made since Harbaugh replaced Mike Singletary probably seem more bothersome or restrictive.
One last thing on Jenkins: Harbaugh’s comments on his behalf put a little extra pressure on him in a way. Instead of saying “I told you so” to specific members of the media, Harbaugh is waiting until Jenkins proves the “so-called experts” wrong before naming names. After the receivers produced barely anything during the playoffs and the 49ers added Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in free agency, one can easily argue that the position of wide receiver will produce the most intrigue during the 2012 season. And right on cue, Michael Crabtree might have strained his calf.