Harbaugh on Jenkins: 'He needs reps; he needs play-time'
A.J. Jenkins’ future in the Levi’s Era is becoming as much of a conversation starter as his present. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
A.J. Jenkins’ apparent struggle to become an impact player with the 49ers is less interesting the further away one gets from Santa Clara. (AP)
A.J. Jenkins' progress is measured not with achievements but with reps, and the progress is largely dismissed as either incremental or insufficient. (AP)
If A.J. Jenkins ever sees the bulb over his head illuminate and he becomes a trustworthy NFL receiver in San Francisco, he will have a seemingly bottomless supply of I-told-you-sos to issue.
And if not? Well, what you’ll have then is your classic touch-foul-play-on situation. As in, “He didn’t really get fouled that hard, so ignore it and keep going.”
Jenkins has been a lightning rod for “Show us what you got” since he was taken third from bottom in the first round of the 2012 draft. According to alleged experts in the field, he was taken above his station – fast, but small, and with occasionally dubious hands. In the parlance, he was a reach.
Indeed, if not for the fact that Jim Harbaugh so stridently defended him and attacked his attackers last summer, Jenkins would almost go unnoticed. He played in only three games, caught no balls, and on a team crying out for wide receiver depth, he has yet to provide any.
Rookies are typically allowed to grow, though, especially on teams that win 75 percent of their games. And teams that win 75 percent of their games typically draft well enough to make concerns about any individual person seem, well, small.
In other words, Jenkins’ apparent struggle to become an impact player with the 49ers is less interesting the further away one gets from Santa Clara. It just happens to be the most vibrant topic available to the locals.
You see, the 49ers are not a team that lives in the air. They run, they defend, and when all goes well, they kick. They also pass, but under Harbaugh, throwing the ball is not their most important product, and frankly isn’t likely to be. His philosophy both at Stanford and with the 49ers is more classic old-timey Big 10 football than anything else, and will remain so until – well, until he can think of something better.
Thus, Jenkins’ inability to find career traction is probably talked about more than it actually matters. If Harbaugh did like to throw as much as, say, Sean Payton in New Orleans, it might be different. Or if the 49ers were 9-27-1 rather than 27-9-1, it would be different. On bad teams, every first round pick matters because every first round pick is supposed to be a franchise cornerstone.
The 49ers, though, were largely assembled when Harbaugh arrived, and he has made few serious structural changes beyond exchanging Alex Smith for Colin Kaepernick and altering the offensive line. Jenkins was Harbaugh’s first-round draft pick in 2012, though, and it was at a position that the 49ers are demonstrably thin, so you would think his development should matter greatly.
Instead, his progress is measured not with achievements but with reps, and the progress is largely dismissed as either incremental or insufficient. It is not yet time for the 49ers to cut new bait and find another fishing hole, but Jenkins’ future in the Levi’s Era is becoming as much of a conversation starter as his present.
The point? With so little else to discuss, he has become the face of this training camp, if such a thing is possible. If it seems like he has been given little time to become a fully-fledged NFL receiver, well, we needn’t remind of you the old “Not-For-Long” cliché. Darwin himself would marvel at the swiftness with which evolution happens in pro football.
If Jenkins doesn’t work out, the 49ers are likely to miss zero beats, other than a day of Harbaugh having to explain how one of his first draft choices didn’t meet his advertised expectations, and that will likely lead to some byzantine soliloquy with turkey noises or 30-year-oild television references, because that, other than Jenkins and his quirky public persona, is the only discernible hole in his game.
Besides, one first round miss does not make for bad roster construction – several do, but one does not. One can succeed drafting in bulk as well with a single home run – better, in most cases.
But if Jenkins has that epiphany that Harbaugh once threatened he would, he will have at his disposal a long list of people to lecture. And even if he doesn’t choose to do so, Harbaugh will. That’s one of those quirks of his, after all – reminding others how little they truly know, even when he knows how much they actually do.