SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers don’t seem too concerned with wide receiver A.J. Jenkins’ slow start to the preseason.
Neither does Jenkins.
The team’s 2012 first-round draft pick has impressed teammates and coaches alike with his hard work and big-play potential this summer. But after an unproductive rookie season, there are immediate expectations for Jenkins to start delivering in games.
He didn’t in San Francisco’s exhibition opener last week against Denver, when Jenkins lost a fumble after his only reception. Jenkins and the 49ers are looking for better results when the team travels to Kansas City for Friday’s game against the Chiefs.
Jenkins is aware he has yet to live up to his draft status. But that’s not making him any more anxious for his next test against the Chiefs.
“I don’t feel no pressure,” Jenkins said Thursday. “I just go out there and play football. Right now, I’m just trying to play my best football. I’m not worried about all that other stuff. Just keep working hard and keep trying to make plays for this team, and everything else will take care of itself.”
The 49ers expected Jenkins to develop into a playmaker when they selected him with the No. 30 overall pick of last year’s draft. But he was a nonfactor as a rookie, finishing the season with zero receptions and dropping the only pass thrown his way. Jenkins played in only three games and was inactive for 11 others.
He has had good days and bad days during training camp, but last week’s loss to the Broncos wasn’t among the best. Jenkins played 39 snaps — 11 more than any other San Francisco receiver — but failed to make the most of the extended playing time.
Jenkins lost a fumble after his only reception, and was the intended receiver on both of San Francisco’s interceptions — the only two other passes thrown his way. He didn’t turn around to look for the football in time on the first pick, and on the second he didn’t go up in the air to fight for the football with a safety on an overthrown pass.
“A.J.’s working hard, A.J.’s out there competing hard,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “He had a couple of plays the other night that he’d like to have back, but he had some good plays. We’re of the ilk that you come in after a game, you learn from it, you move on and you get better. A.J. does a lot of really good things and he’s just got to continue to work and get better day by day.”
Next stop: Kansas City, where Roman said Jenkins again is “going to get a healthy amount of reps.”
The 49ers are anxious to speed along Jenkins’ development because they need him. Michael Crabtree, San Francisco’s No. 1 wideout who had a career season last year, is out until at least November with a torn Achilles tendon. Mario Manningham, the team’s second-leading receiver last season, has yet to practice this summer as he continues to recover from a December knee injury.
With veteran Kyle Williams also coming off a knee injury suffered late last season, Jenkins is competing with several newcomer veterans to fill San Francisco’s substantial void at the position.
The 49ers acquired veteran Anquan Boldin via trade during the offseason, and he’s now entrenched as San Francisco’s top receiver. But the team still is uncertain who will be the other starter, or who will even fill the other top receiving roles in the season opener Sept. 8 against Green Bay.
San Francisco signed experienced veteran free agents Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins on Aug. 2 to compete for roster berths. The 49ers started fourth-year veteran Marlon Moore, also acquired during the offseason, opposite Boldin against Denver.
That leaves a lot of opportunity for Jenkins, and the 49ers remain confident he will take advantage of it.
“I really like A.J. Jenkins,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “He has a lot of potential. He’s smooth, he’s fast, and he wants to succeed. He’s still learning the game, and it will take time. It’s just taking him a little time, but he will get there. He’s definitely a tremendous asset to this team, and I think he will be prepared by the start of the season.”
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