*****This article was published before A.J. Jenkins was traded to the Chiefs.
It is no secret that I am a big advocate of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. I talked with him before training camp and also got to speak to him prior to the preseason opener against the Denver Broncos. So far, he has not been able to take control of the starting wide receiver spot that opened up once Michael Crabtree was injured. This has caused some to question whether or not he should make the 49ers’ 2013 roster.
The idea of cutting ties with a player that was a first round draft pick just a year ago is not one that is likely to come to fruition. Jenkins does have a chance to develop into a very good player. Ironically, years ago, there was a certain receiver selected from Mississippi Valley State that did not get off to the best start as a 49er. No, I am not comparing Jenkins to Jerry Rice. What I am doing is using Rice as an example of how a player can take a bit to develop. Michael Crabtree did not have the best start with the 49ers either.
The receiver position is not one that is easy to step right in and have an impact. Golden Tate took a few years to make an impact with the Seattle Seahawks as his career starter. Typically, receivers take two or three years to really get adjusted to the faster pace of the NFL.
I spoke to Jenkins about the adjustments that are needed to succeed in the NFL.
“The overall scheme that the defenses play. In college I was going against corners in the Big Ten,” Jenkins said. “I am now going against proven veterans. The knowledge of the game of these guys is so much better than in college. It’s different mentally. On the field, it’s mental now. Everybody is good. There’s guys that have been doing this thing for ten years. It’s a different ball game when you are playing against those guys.”
Jenkins got to see first hand how much more difficult it is in the NFL when the 49ers played the Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason. He had to go against Sean Smith most of the night. Smith is not your typical corner, standing at 6’3″ with a long wingspan and an eager desire to jam receivers at the line.
He did a good job of getting off of the jam and getting into his route on a third down with 10 yards to go early in the game. Jenkins got inside position on Smith to make the catch on the hitch route but slipped and Smith was able to knock the ball down. He also had Smith beat later in the game on a nine route, but the ball was under thrown resulting in an interception.
“Smith’s a heck of a player,” said head coach Jim Harbaugh. “But on that route he got the interception, A.J. had a step on him. The throw should have been out in front, not back shoulder.”
This year, Jenkins will have a proven example of how to hit the ground running as a young receiver in Anquan Boldin. Boldin got off to a very good start as a rookie receiver. He was the 2003 Offensive Rookie of the Year as he recorded 101 receptions for 1,377 yards. He had 217 yards in his first game as a pro, and will be a good resource for Jenkins.
“The day he got here, he kind of took me under his wings,” Jenkins said of Boldin. “I have been really fortunate to have that kind of veteran leadership. Anquan has been here for me and I have learned a lot from him. He has put all the younger receivers on his shoulder and he feels like he needs to be there for us. That is his mindset.”
It is clear that the 49ers have every intention of pressing Jenkins into action. At this point, it is really a matter of him getting his confidence and his swagger. The coaching staff is staying positive about how the development process is going.
Harbaugh touched on this when he said, “He’s shown good things, and he’s going to do some additional things this week and put him in some additional roles to see how he does with that. I think with any particular player, you start talking individually, there’s a process there and he’s going through it and he’s competing and he’s working hard. Usually when you do that, good things happen.”
The additional roles that Jenkins will take on are set to include him getting a chance to return some kicks. What they are doing is looking to find ways to get him going.
There are two more games left for Jenkins to find something to give him a spark as he goes into the regular season. He can make a lot of the concerns go away if he can put together a signature game against the Minnesota Vikings or San Diego Chargers.
Either way, Jenkins should not be cut and needs to find a way to turn things around.