SANTA CLARA (AP) — If A.J. Jenkins had yet to call his dad on a given day last season, he would receive a text asking him to do so.
Those daily chats are a big reason Jenkins stayed sane during a challenging, unproductive, heavily scrutinized rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers. Their top draft pick last year, he didn’t make a single catch while spending most of his time watching from the sidelines.
He was on the active roster in only three games for the two-time defending division champion and Super Bowl runner-up.
The 49ers are now counting on Jenkins after top 2012 wideout Michael Crabtree tore his right Achilles tendon during a May 21 practice and underwent surgery.
Jenkins spent about two months this offseason living and training with quarterback Colin Kaepernick in Atlanta. All of those pep talks from his dad sure seem to be paying off, too.
“He’s my father. He just told me, ‘Be patient, be humble about it,’ because my time is going to be there,” Jenkins recalled. “Him being my dad, he’s going to call me every single day. That’s kind of how it was. Every day he’d call because he’d read some blog that had him thinking all negative.”
Jenkins, the 49ers’ 30th overall pick in the first round of the 2012 draft out of Illinois, seemed to face criticism by the week — for his fundamentals, footwork, knowledge of the playbook, inconsistencies making the jump from college to the pros, you name it.
Last week, he had his best series of practices yet since joining the Niners. Coach Jim Harbaugh said it, offensive coordinator Greg Roman spoke of it during the team’s minicamp, and Jenkins agreed with them both.
“The last two days of last week, he had the two best days he’s had since I’ve been here,” Roman said. “Just made some clutch catches for us when we were moving the ball. Just made plays, did all the right things, made plays when he had the opportunity and he just needs to continue doing that.”
Jenkins has added strength to his 6-foot frame, playing nearly 10 pounds heavier at 200 pounds.
Aside from his training alongside Kaepernick and fellow wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, Jenkins committed himself to studying so he wouldn’t fall behind like he did before. That also includes observing new teammate Anquan Boldin, acquired in a trade from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
“I just pretty much had my head in the playbook last week a lot, and I knew what I had to do and I played fast,” he said. “It took me a while because I wasn’t used to so many plays. They install every single day. It’s the constant install. If you don’t know what’s going on the previous day, the next install is the very next day, so you’re behind because you don’t know what’s going on. Your mind kind of wanders off a little bit. It’s kind of like school all over again. You’ve got to constantly study the playbook.”
Getting to know Kaepernick as more than just a teammate is something Jenkins cherished — and something he hopes carries over into their chemistry on the field.
“I had never really hung out with him outside of football, so I was just going down there with him, chilling with him, staying with him, getting to know who he is and who I am as a person,” Jenkins said.
Even during organized team activities last month, Jenkins acknowledged a change in his mindset, confidence and work ethic.
“I’m a lot better than I was last year around this time,” he said.
Jenkins had 90 catches for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior season for the Fighting Illini and led the Big Ten Conference with an average of 6.92 receptions per game. He caught 19 TD passes during his four-year college career.
Now, Jenkins wants to make the jump to the NFL at last and show he belongs at the highest level.
“I think there’s a natural process that goes on, a comfort level and that’s something that’s growing all the time and needs to continue to grow,” Roman said.
Jenkins had established a new approach well before Crabtree was injured last month.
“My mindset going into this offseason was just trying to play more, regardless of whether Crabtree was hurt or not,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that he got an injury, but my mindset didn’t waver at all because he got hurt.”
And if Jenkins turns things around as he hopes this season, he will still be talking to his dad all the time — but certainly having more positive conversations.
They find a way to chat even considering the three-hour time difference with Al Jenkins living in Jacksonville, Fla.
“My dad stays up all night, regardless of what time it is,” Jenkins said. “He was going to be up so I could talk to him.”
Notes: CB Carlos Rogers is recovering from an undisclosed injury, but Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio expect him to be fully healthy for training camp. ... DE Justin Smith also plans to be full strength for the start of camp late next month. He is working back from a partially torn left triceps muscle that required surgery shortly after the team’s 34-31 Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He played late in the season while wearing a bulky brace. If Smith had to play in a game now, he said it would be no problem. But give him six more weeks and he insists he will be back to his old menacing self. “The strength and everything came back pretty good,” Smith said. “I want to be back at 100 percent. I’m about a month off from that. I’m close.”