SANTA CLARA - Coach Jim Harbaugh, who gave a passionate defense of A.J. Jenkins nearly a year ago, was singing the 49ers wide receiver's praises again Tuesday.
Harbaugh said Jenkins last week had his best string of practices since the team drafted him in the first round in 2012, a claim corroborated by offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
"Oh, he just made some clutch catches for us moving the ball," Roman said. "Just made plays, did all the right things, made plays when he had the opportunity. And he just needs to continue to do that."
Said Harbaugh: "Anybody that's going from Year One to Year Two - it's a great window of opportunity to improve in the kind of fashion that you'll never have again in your career. Because you're going from doing things for the first time to now everything that you do you've already done."
Jenkins' progress already was being monitored this offseason after his catch-less rookie season. And that scrutiny increased when starting receiver Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles' tendon last month.
Crabtree is expected to miss most - if not all - of the regular season, and the 49ers are looking for someone to replace him in the starting lineup opposite veteran Anquan Boldin. Jenkins is a leading candidate, but there are other contenders, including Ricardo Lockette, Marlon Moore and Quinton Patton.
Harbaugh also had high praise for Jenkins last year, going so far as to reprimand the "scribes, pundits and so-called experts" who reported Jenkins was struggling during practices.
"I'll go on record: A.J. is going to be an outstanding football player," Harbaugh said last July. "So far in camp and what he's done in the offseason has led us to believe nothing but he'll be an outstanding football player in the National Football League. And, yeah, I'm going to keep track of some of these names of so-called experts who were making these comments. And there's going to be an 'I told you so.' I foresee that happening."
There were no I-told-you-so's last year, however.
Despite the 49ers losing receivers Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham to injuries, Jenkins was on the field for only a handful of snaps in 2012. He was targeted once all season, and he dropped the pass.
One of the issues was that he wasn't physically ready to clash with NFL defensive backs and linebackers after playing in a wide-open offense at Illinois. Early in this offseason, he spent time with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Lockette in Atlanta, gaining strength and weight.
A year ago, Jenkins was listed at 192 pounds; he said he's close to 200 pounds now.
On Tuesday, Jenkins said the sessions with Kaepernick were valuable in getting to know the quarterback, someone he admitted he didn't spend much time with away from the practice facility last season.
"Just because the chemistry, the bond you have," Jenkins said. "It's great to be teammates off the field because you know each other personally."
Jenkins said his added strength and familiarity with the playbook have allowed him to play faster and with more confidence this spring. He also said he's not paying attention to what's being said and written about him.
"You've got to just tune everybody else out," Jenkins said. "You've got to just go into the season and just think about your job. Media comes with everything, being a first-round draft pick, they all want to put this label on you, call you all kinds of things. But you've got to just be focused and not worry about it."