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Notebook: A.J. Jenkins Breaks Out

Posted Aug 31, 2012

Shortly after the 49ers thumped the Chargers 35-3 in Thursday’s preseason finale, rookies A.J. Jenkins and Cam Johnson walked off the field together, talking about the greatest night of their professional lives.

For Jenkins, it was something of a coming out party. For Johnson, it was his long-awaited NFL debut.

The duo shared a room during rookie minicamp in May, and on Thursday they shared something even greater.

“It’s great feeling to be out there with a great team,” Jenkins said. “I was able to do that and I was proud enough to do it in front of the home fans.”

When Jenkins says he was “able to do that,” he’s referring to his four catches for a game-high 59 yards. The first-round pick also hauled in the first touchdown of his 49ers career, when he found space in the back of the end zone while quarterback Colin Kaepernick scrambled, before hauling in the 12-yard reception for a score.

Jenkins was soon mobbed by his teammates near the back right pylon. In the heat of the moment, he spiked the ball in celebration, but Anthony Dixon snatched the pigskin and gave it back to Jenkins for his first NFL keepsake.

“I guess besides me actually being drafted,” Jenkins said, “it probably has to be my second-best memory so far.”

The way he played on Thursday night, Jenkins will have many fond memories to look back on when his career is over.

The speedster out of Illinois joined Brett Swain as the team’s starting wide receivers and made an immediate impact. On the first drive of the game, Jenkins took a handoff from Kaepernick and burst around the right edge to pick up a nine-yard gain on first down. Later in the quarter, Jenkins ran a nice crossing pattern from the left side of the field and picked up a first down.

But nothing trumped his touchdown grab, which gave the 49ers a commanding 21-0 lead at the 8:11 mark of the second quarter.

“We’ve been working with everybody, but he’s someone we’re really trying to get the ball to right now to see what he’s going to be capable of,” Kaepernick said. “He peeled off of his route and worked on his scramble rules and made a hell of a play in the back of the end zone.”

Johnson’s return to the football field didn’t garner as much fanfare, but it was remarkable nonetheless. After sitting out most of training camp due to injury, Johnson finally got a chance to show his coaches his ability in a game situation.

The seventh-round pick out of Virginia got his first taste of the “Tony Montana Squad” in the first quarter, when he took part in San Francisco’s stalwart kickoff coverage team. He entered the game on defense later in the first half, bringing constant pressure on the left edge from his position of outside linebacker.

“It was a lot of fun to finally get out there and show some of the things that I can do,” Johnson said. “To just be able to play with the team was great.”

While Jenkins, Johnson and other 49ers draft picks – namely Trenton Robinson, LaMichael James and Joe Looney – also made big impacts on Thursday, San Francisco received significant contributions from undrafted rookies as well.

Tight end Garrett Celek hauled in a 3-yard touchdown catch from Josh Johnson in the final minute of the third quarter – extending San Francisco’s lead to 35-0 – and also caught 37-yard pass from Kaepernick in the second quarter. Then there was wideout Nathan Palmer, who shook off some early struggles and turned a quick hitch route into a 51-yard touchdown, when he caught a third-quarter pass from Johnson and bolted past his man down the left sideline.

“You never know if this is going to be my last game, if I’m going to play again, if I’m going to play here or play anywhere else,” Palmer said. “Just to get one in this game meant a lot to me and for this organization.”

In the cruel world of the NFL, the good times for many players only last so long. The 49ers will cut 22 players from their team on Friday as they finalize their 53-man roster.

Walker Makes Impact in Return

The 49ers were happy to welcome back Delanie Walker to game action on Thursday as he made his first preseason appearance since injuring himself at the team’s Fan Fest earlier this month. Walker even talked Coach Jim Harbaugh into giving him more playing time.

Walker didn’t miss a beat in his return to the field, as he hauled in a 32-yard touchdown catch from Kaepernick to set the early tone.

Kaepernick made a great play with his feet – one of many on the night – to extend the play that ultimately led to Walker’s score. Kaepernick rolled to his left and threw a dart to Walker, who steamrolled Chargers safety Atari Bigby near the goal line before tiptoe-ing his way into the end zone.

“My motto is one guy isn’t going to take me down,” Walker said. “I saw the safety come down, put my shoulder on him, tiptoed, did a spin and dove in the end zone.”

T-Good In the House

Given the track record of the 49ers defense, perhaps it wasn’t surprising to see the first two San Diego drives cut short by San Francisco takeaways. Then again, the 49ers elected to sit all 11 of their starters, giving their second-stringers a chance to shut down the No. 1 Chargers offense.

During his postgame press conference, Harbaugh singled out Tavares Gooden as one of the game’s top performers, as he started at inside linebacker alongside Larry Grant and made a team-high six tackles, all in the first half.

“We don’t believe in first and second team here,” Gooden said. “It’s whoever’s on the field – that’s who’s out there. We were looking forward to playing against those guys because that shows us where we are. We took pride in it and guys went out there and busted their butts.”

Among Gooden’s tackles was a nine-yard sack of Charlie Whitehurst, while Gooden was also credited with two quarterback hurries.

Tukuafu Does It Again

It was darn-near impossible to get Will Tukuafu off the field on Thursday night.

Not only did he start the game as a defensive tackle – his natural position – but he also turned in another mauling performance as the team’s fullback on select plays. In fact, it was Tukuafu who laid the lumber on Takeo Spikes for a key block during Anthony Dixon’s 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

But that wasn’t the block that had Harbaugh talking after the game. The 49ers coach noted the bone-crushing block he laid before Celek’s touchdown grab in the third quarter.

“I could hear it more than I could see it,” Harbaugh said. “Saw it, but I was more impressed with what I heard. Just textbook. It was just a textbook block.”

Tukuafu did his best to solidify his spot on the team as a possible contributor in all three phases of the game. An athletic option at 6-foot-4, 293 pounds, Tukuafu has relied on his rugby background to translate his skills to offense.

“I love playing football,” Tukuafu said.

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