49ers: Harbaugh Defends Rookie A.J. Jenkins As Criticism Builds

Of the several offseason topics surrounding the San Francisco 49ers prior to the start of training camp, one seemed to stand out because of the criticism it took at the time the decision was made.

The overall consensus from people in the know and in the media was that 49ers’ 2012 first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins was struggling.

He was struggling to adjust to the NFL atmosphere and simply could not keep up with what the 49ers were doing thus far, with most of the reports stating that he was well out of shape.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh was quick to address that topic at Sunday’s press conference.

“A.J. Jenkins was an outstanding football player when he got here,” Harbaugh said. “His progress has been very, very good and exceeded expectations.  For those scribes, pundits, so called experts, who have gone as far as to say that he is going to be a bust, should just stop.”

Fair enough.

“And A.J. Jenkins, specifically, his conditioning is tip-top,” he said. “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.”

This is the second time this offseason that Harbaugh has gone out of his way to defend one of his players.

He addressed the Peyton Manning rumors in late-May, saying they were “silly and untrue,” and that Alex Smith was a part of the plan all along.

Now Harbaugh has come to the aid of Jenkins, who was already set to endure his share of adversity this offseason as an NFL rookie playing alongside future Hall of Famer Randy Moss and the hero of last year’s Super Bowl, Mario Manningham.

On top of that, he is a first round pick that no one saw coming — criticism followed.

If you remember, NFL analysts were flipping the pages trying to find Jenkins on the list of wide receiver prospects when his name was called during the 2012 NFL Draft.

However, Harbaugh is convinced that Jenkins will one day become a stellar offensive weapon.

As for steady production and contribution in 2012-13, that may be a bit of a stretch.

Harbaugh seemed to dodge the question when it came up on Sunday.

“I expect him to have a great practice today,” Harbaugh said in response to whether or not Jenkins will contribute as a rookie. “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.”

For now, we can judge Harbaugh’s actions in two ways:  Either Jenkins has personally taken offense to the criticism from the media, or the reports of his lackluster fitness are simply untrue.

Harbaugh was quick to shut down the former.

“He has had a tremendous attitude,” he said. “He’s not even concerned with it at all, and that’s one of the things that’s been outstanding about him.”

Jenkins was the 30th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and the fourth wide receiver selected.

49ers training camp started on Friday, July 27.