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The 49ers believe wide receiver A.J. Jenkins can be signaling TD catches in the NFL the way he did at Illinois. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
A.J. Jenkins went into the 2012 hoping to contribute in a big way, but wound up not catching a single pass in his rookie NFL season.
It’s obvious that both he and the 49ers want to make 2013 a far different season.
Jenkins this week posted a message on Twitter to his his more than 27,000 followers that said, “The only way to make it to the top is getting it from the bottom.”
And Niners GM Trent Baalke, meeting the media Thursday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, expressed faith in his young wide receiver and noted Jenkins is scheduled to start working out in Atlanta with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
When asked what he hopes to get from Jenkins in 2013, Baalke said: “Production.”
“We’ve always said, you go into the draft and you draft guys and you know what their strong suits are, you know what their weaknesses are, and then it’s up to them. And A.J.’s a young man that has worked awfully hard. He’s going to continue to work hard.
“I believe he’s either in Atlanta right now or on his way to Atlanta where our quarterback is and some of our other players, and they’re going to go at it this offseason. …
“The biggest growth of players is always between year one and year two. We expect that that’s going to happen with A.J., just as we do with all our young players.”
After the 49ers’ Super Bowl season, Jenkins told the media that he’s eager to work hard this offseason to become a key contributor, saying he’s going to “come back bigger, faster, stronger."
“I’m going to be accountable this offseason and make myself the kind of player that they want me to be,” he said.
Wide receivers coach John Morton said recently that “the sky is the limit for him,” and Baalke said from what he saw of Jenkins in 2012, he’s certain Jenkins can make a big step up.
“It’s not a work ethic issue, it’s not a skill set issue, it’s learning the craft at the pro level,” Baalke said, adding that the team is as confident in his abilities as “when we drafted him.”
At Illinois, Jenkins posted huge numbers and showed a speed and explosiveness that enticed 49ers scouts. His senior season he had 90 catches for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns.
Mike Sando, the NFC West blogger for ESPN.com, recently noted that over the past decade, Jenkins is the only wideout taken between the 25th-35th picks who didn’t have a single catch (except for Robert Meachem, who was injured his rookie season). Several other wideouts taken in a similar draft position, however, had meager numbers – Michael Jenkins and Rashaun Woods just seven catches, Devin Thomas 15 catches, Brian Quick 11 and Roddy White just 29, for instance.
Plus, wrote Sando: “Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers’ other coaches have been vague when pressed for specifics on what Jenkins could do to improve his chances of playing time. The 49ers have some credibility on such matters. Their 2012 draft choices hardly played last season, mostly because they weren’t needed.”
Judging by Jenkins’ Twitter account, he’s eager to improve. Throughout the season he received upbeat, inspirational messages from fans, friends, family – and posted many himself.
Wrote Jenkins in November: “For everybody that’s tryin to reach there dreams its possible. I’m living proof of it. Tune out the haters.”