Another day in Santa Clara … another day of good P.R. for embattled wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. Vernon Davis met with the media on Monday and was asked if any of the receivers have stood out as potential candidates to take some of the heat off himself and Anquan Boldin. That led to Davis talking — a lot — about the wide receiver who lost a fumble on his only catch during Friday night’s 10-6 loss to Denver.
“I really like A.J. Jenkins. He has a lot of potential. He’s still learning the game. He told me yesterday, ‘Man, I’m still learning.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know. It will take time, A.J. Just continue to work and get better.’ And I also explained to him that when he comes to work he’s got to be serious. You’ve got to be serious about this. You can’t play, you’ve got to learn as much as you can and learn and grow. Not just as an athlete, but as a person. He said, ‘Yeah, I understand.’
“He really wants to do well. He wants to succeed. I can see it and I can tell by the way he talks to me. He definitely wants to succeed and I think he has all the potential to do it. It’s just taking him a little time. But he will get there and I think he will be prepared by the start of the season.”
It seems like every once in a while, when the questions about Jenkins get louder, the 49ers try to boost his reputation as best they can. Back on June 11, the 49ers went with the three-pronged attack.
- Greg Roman talked about Jenkins making some “clutch catches” during the two days of practice when the media wasn’t allowed to watch.
- “I thought A.J. had his best week of football since he’s been a 49er,” said Jim Harbaugh.
- Finally, Jenkins himself came out to talk about his newfound focus.
That day Jenkins admitted to me that his mind wandered a bit during his rookie year, causing him to fall behind as the team installed new plays every … single … day. Fast forward to today, when Davis talked about Jenkins’ difficulties “grasping” what the coaches needed him to learn last year. While fans (and let’s face it, the media as well) aren’t exactly known for being patient with first round draft picks, Davis isn’t worried about Jenkins’ development in the slightest.
“Everybody’s different. Last year was his rookie year. He’s got time. I don’t think we can rush him because it’s up to him to change his mindset and really take off. Not only change his mindset, but really grasp whatever the coaches are trying to give to him, whichever role it is and just blossom. And I think he’s got it in him. It’s just taking him a little time.”
He might be preaching patience because, of anyone on the 49ers’ roster, it’s Davis who knows best what Jenkins is going through. The expectations for the 49ers’ tight end were much higher than they’ll ever be for Jenkins, since Davis was taking 24 spots higher (6th overall) when he was drafted in 2006. Many applied the “bust” tag to Davis after he averaged just 34 receptions, 377 yards and three touchdowns per season over his first three years.
Then, to use Davis’ word, he “blossomed” in his fourth year with 78 catches, 965 yards and 13 TD. His career trajectory completely changed in 2009, as Davis went from a guy known as a good blocker with horrible hands to one of the better red zone threats in the league. The 49ers’ patience with Davis was rewarded. Davis, who possesses a rare combination of strength and speed, finally started to produce in a way that measured up to his promise. Jenkins isn’t chiseled like Davis, but Davis listed the traits Jenkins possesses that give him confidence that Jenkins can prove doubters wrong in the same way he did back in ’09.
“He’s smooth, he’s fast, and he wants to succeed. Those are the three main things that jump out to me. It’s hard to find speed, we all know that. That’s hard, that’s not something you can just walk into. If you look at this team now, A.J.’s one of the top three fastest guys on the team. So he’s definitely a tremendous asset to this team.”
That of course begged the question: who are the other two guys on the team who can run with Jenkins? Davis said that Colin Kaepernick belongs on that list, and then mentioned Frank Gore. “Just joking,” said Davis, who said he wouldn’t mention himself with those other two, but that we could if we wanted to.
The more important question might be whether Jenkins can, as Davis predicted, get himself ready to run alongside Davis on the field by the start of the regular season. Even with Davis preaching patience, with the 49ers’ situation at wide receiver looking dicey these days it remains to be seen how long the 49ers’ coaching staff and Trent Baalke can wait for Jenkins to figure it all out.