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A.J. Jenkins Looks to Expand Role

Posted Feb 11, 2013

A.J. Jenkins is eager to attack his first NFL offseason.

It was a “humbling” rookie season for San Francisco 49ers first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins, but also an experience he won’t soon forget.

Jenkins was active for four regular season games and one playoff game in 2012, yet he made no receptions for the NFC Champions.

Because of his unique rookie experience, the 6-foot, 192-pound wide receiver doesn’t plan on treating his first professional offseason as time off. Instead, Jenkins wants to work out in the Bay Area, catch passes from his quarterback and earn a greater role on the 49ers offense.

“It’s not really an offseason for me,” said Jenkins, the No. 30 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft out of Illinois. “I’m going to use all this free time I have to try and get an edge.”

It sounds like the young wideout has been closely listening to the words of his coach, Jim Harbaugh.

The 49ers coach stressed the importance of players and coaches taking time off to recharge from a grueling postseason run. But Harbaugh also wanted them to find ways to improve while getting that rest.

“I think our players, our coaches, have spent everything that they have at this point and take a couple of weeks to recharge the battery,” Harbaugh said last week, “but also thinking while we’re doing that on how to get an edge, what our edge will be, individually looking at ourselves and seeing how we can get better.”

Jenkins has been looking through that lens as soon as his rookie season concluded. After not catching a pass all season and dropping the only pass intended to him in a Week 14 home win over the Miami Dolphins, Jenkins has had plenty of time to focus on attacking his sophomore campaign.

“It really humbled me, honestly,” Jenkins said as he packed up his belongings inside the 49ers locker room. “It was my first year not playing. It’s kind of different, (you’re) seeing the game from a different lens, (you’re) on the sideline watching everything, but at the same time, I learned so much from watching Randy Moss and Crab (Michael Crabtree) and Ted (Ginn Jr.) and guys like that. I’m just excited for next year.”

Jenkins played in 46 games at Illinois. He totaled 167 receptions for 2,432 yards and 19 touchdowns as a First-Team All-Big Ten performer.

Going from a 90-catch, 1,276-yard, eight-touchdown season as a senior to a reserve role on an NFC-West winning team was challenging for Jenkins, but it allowed him to learn from the 49ers top wideouts.

In particular, Jenkins learned a great deal from watching Crabtree, San Francisco’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2003.

Jenkins really harped on one phrase shared by the team’s leading wideout.

“One thing he told me was, ‘Slow down,’” Jenkins revealed. “As a rookie, you try to hurry up everything; you try to run too fast. He told me, ‘You need to slow down; you’ve got more time than you think. Just relax, calm down.’”

Jenkins took that wisdom to heart during weekly practice sessions. It helped him focus on route-running and pass-catching concentration.

“That kind of advice will only help me in the long run,” Jenkins said.

Harbaugh believes his young receiver has the license and talent to push for more playing time. Now that Jenkins enters his first full offseason with the 49ers, he looks to maximize his time with the strength staff at team headquarters.

Jenkins also plans on joining Colin Kaepernick for offseason workouts in Atlanta, site of Kaepernick’s combine training back in 2011.

“We’re already great friends off the field,” Jenkins said of San Francisco’s starting signal-caller.  “Hopefully we can get that chemistry from off the field on the field. I can’t wait.”

In addition, Jenkins will continue to grow physically thanks to San Francisco’s strength staff led by Mark Uyeyama.

“It’s time to try and get faster and stronger,” Jenkins said. “I’m going to use this offseason as the best weapon for me, I’m trying to get on the field more.”

Jenkins isn’t looking back on 2012 with a negative perspective. Instead, the speedy vertical threat is looking to build on the learning experience of playing beside some of the game’s top play-makers.

“To watch the whole season from the sidelines it was humbling,” Jenkins said, “but I’m looking forward to being able to come back this year and be more of a factor.”

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