Reached by phone Saturday morning, former Illinois head coach Ron Zook got in the first question.Hey,Zook said, when are you guys going to back off my guy out there?Zook’s guyThat would be 49ers rookie wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, the team’s first-round pick who spent four years with Zook at Illinois.Last Sunday, Zook watched 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on ESPN’s SportsCenter,defending the rookie against reporters who were critical of Jenkins’ performance during the offseason workout program. Those so-called expertswould look cluelesswhen Jenkins developed into an outstanding NFL wide receiver, Harbaugh said.Zook offered a similar, if more polite, defense Saturday and also offered a history lesson.Jenkins struggled to make the transition from high school to college. He had just 21 catches after his first two seasons at Illinois and nearly transferred after his sophomore year. He began to blossom as a junior, though, and finished his career with a 90-catch, 1,276-yard senior season that vaulted him up draft boards.
Zook, an NFL assistant coach from 1996-2001, said Jenkins would be fine. Just give him some time.He’s got his eyes wide open right now,Zook said. But catching won’t be a problem and learning won’t be a problem. He’s a smart kid. I coached in the NFL. They’re going to get a lot of stuff thrown at them quickly right now, and he’ll study it and the coaches will bring him along. He’s going to be a good player. I don’t think there’s any question.Zook said the ultra-conscientious Jenkins always wanted to be perfectand had a tendency to put too much pressure on himself early in his career. He thought Jenkins could be experiencing similar emotions as a pro.If so, it would be understandable given the scrutiny Jenkins has inspired before playing his first preseason game.It began after the 49ers raised some eyebrows by selecting Jenkins in the first round with the No. 30 overall pick – he was viewed by many as a second-round selection – and it ramped up when Jenkins showed up admittedly out of shape for his first rookie minicamp in May. Harbaugh’s spirited defense of the rookie last week made national headlines and only increased the spotlight.Welcome to our shop.More 2012 new styles of Roger Craig Jersey and Randy Moss Jersey for sale now.
For his part, Jenkins dismissed the notion that he was feeling undue pressure. He did acknowledge that the expectations are far different for an NFL first-rounder than a college freshman. He said things began to click for him as a junior in college. He later smiled. He knows he doesn’t have that much time in the NFL.Being a first-round draft pick, they kind of expect you to pick things up pretty fast and expect you to play right away,Jenkins said. As a freshman, you can kind of sit and watch the older guys and learn and develop. But in this business, it’s all about producing.Jenkins didn’t stand out during offseason practices that were open to the media, and he’s had a quiet performance early in training camp. His lack of an immediate impact can be partly attributed to the fact that he’s still getting up to speed with the offense.
On Wednesday, wide receivers coach John Morton yelled at him for running the wrong route during a press-coverage drill. On Friday, he was out of position before the snap and backup quarterback Scott Tolzien stepped back from under center to move him into the right spot.Jenkins, a three-time all-academic selection in college, is eager to fully grasp the offense, which he believes will allow him to play more instinctively.He’s run a blistering 40-yard dash 4.38 seconds, and quarterback Alex Smith raved this week about Jenkins’ ability to effortlessly glide in and out of breaks.Not surprisingly, Jenkins’ father, Al, is among those who believe his son’s skills will translate into an outstanding NFL career.As for those media skepticsAl Jenkins laughed. And channeled Harbaugh.Like he said,Al Jenkins said, some of these guys are clueless.
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