PAUL SAKUMA / Associated Press

Rookie wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, left, drills with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on Friday at the team's Santa Clara training camp. Harbaugh defended Jenkins against media critics Sunday.

Pugnacious Harbaugh defends rookie 49er A.J. Jenkins

Published: Monday, Jul. 30, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 - 10:36 am

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers put on pads Sunday and got to hit each other for the first time this season. But Jim Harbaugh was in a pugnacious mood before the afternoon session started.

The coach was not scheduled to talk to the media. As offensive coordinator Greg Roman fielded questions at the podium in the news conference tent, Harbaugh sat in the back eating his lunch. But when Roman stepped down, Harbaugh stepped forward and launched into a passionate defense of first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins, the subject of a few critical observations during the spring sessions.

"For those scribes, pundits, so-called experts who have gone as far to say that he is going to be a bust – just stop," Harbaugh said. "I recommend that because they are making themselves look more clueless than they already did. To go on record, A.J.'s going to be an outstanding football player."

It's unclear, exactly, what prompted the comments.

Jenkins, a wide receiver, was one of several rookies who arrived for the team's first rookie minicamp in May out of shape.

When Harbaugh was asked specifically about how Jenkins looked at the time, he said, "The group of receivers looked good today. Out of shape – that's the bad news. The good news is that it's a very talented group of those young receivers. You can tell that right away. The bad news is we've got to get them in shape. I don't know exactly what all these guys were doing for the last six months."

On Sunday, Harbaugh said he was talking about the group of rookies as a whole.

"And I said they would eventually get there," he said as far as their conditioning. "And they are there. And A.J. Jenkins specifically – his conditioning is tip-top."

Jenkins, meanwhile, said he didn't ask Harbaugh to come to his defense and said he really hasn't paid much attention to the critiques.

"I love criticism," he said. "That's what drives me. No hard feelings. People are going to say what they say. It doesn't matter what the outside world says."

Jenkins got a nice test Sunday when he twice faced cornerback Perrish Cox, one of the 49ers' more aggressive defensive backs, during one-on-one drills. For the first time this season, Cox and his position mates were allowed to chuck the receivers at the line of scrimmage.

Cox thumped Jenkins hard on both plays, and Jenkins managed to haul in one of the passes, even after tangling with Cox again on the sideline.

Jenkins had a quiet afternoon, otherwise.

Harbaugh, of course, went off script two months ago when he insisted that the 49ers were not pursuing then free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning in March. He said any reports to the contrary were "phony" and that the 49ers always have backed Alex Smith.

Asked how he felt about his coach defending one of his players, Joe Staley, the de facto captain of the offensive line, said he loved it.

"This is a very close-knit team," he said. "And it starts with the head coach."

Jenkins, meanwhile, doesn't figure to see a lot of action this season on a team with several high-profile veterans on the roster. On Friday, for example, Harbaugh said there was a five-way tie when it came to being the team's No. 1 wideout – among Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn and Mario Manningham.

On most teams, only four or five wide receivers are activated on game days.

Barring injuries, Jenkins likely will be a bigger factor in coming years.

And Harbaugh is adamant that the rookie will be a big success.

"I'm going to keep track of some of these names of so-called experts who are making these comments, and there's going to be an 'I told you so,' " he said. "I foresee that happening."

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