Jim Harbaugh was adamant last year when criticism abounded surrounding San Francisco 49ers first round draft pick A.J. Jenkins that the Illinois rookie would eventually become “an outstanding player in the National Football League.”
It certainly didn’t happen last season as Jenkins was active for just three games and was didn’t record a single catch. In fact, he was targeted only once. But with Michael Crabtree out with a torn Achilles and Mario Manningham still working his way back from a torn ACL, Jenkins is trying to take advantage of the extra opportunities in practice.
After a strong last week of OTAs and start to mini-cam, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have been praising the work of the second-year wide receiver.
“[I] thought A.J. had his best week of football since he’s been a 49er the last four days of OTAs, which was the last week of OTAs, and he continues to build on that,” Harbaugh said, via Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
“I think anybody that’s gone from Year 1 to Year 2, there’s a great window of opportunity to improve in a fashion that you’ll never have again in your career. You’re going from doing things for the first time to everything you, do you’ve already done it. Big strides can be made that way.”
With the injuries to Crabtree and Manningham, the 49ers desperately need one of their young receivers to step up and take hold of a spot opposite Anquan Boldin. Whether it’s Jenkins, fourth-round pick Quinton Patton, Ricardo Lockette or someone else, there is a clear spot available for someone to grab significant playing time. With Jenkins’ performance this offseason he appears to be the leader in the clubhouse.
“A.J., I thought the last two days of last week had the best days he’s had since I’ve been here,” Roman said. “Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette, they’re all stepping up. It’s going to be a continuing process. We’re trying to get these guys ready for training camp, to come in and compete and win a job.”