49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh made an unscheduled visit to the media tent on Sunday and had several pointed comments to the assembled media about coverage of 49ers first round pick A.J. Jenkins. Harbaugh went into several other topics (transcript posted after the jump), but the meat of the comments dealt with the perception that A.J. Jenkins is struggling and could end up a busted pick.
This marks the second time this offseason that Coach Harbaugh has gone out of his way to address a topic with the media. Back in late May, Harbaugh addressed the team's "alleged pursuit" of QB Peyton Manning. It was odd because he was being asked a question about Isaac Sopoaga and in his answer completely switched gears to discuss Alex Smith and Peyton Manning.
So why exactly is Coach Harbaugh getting into these occasionally impassioned defenses of a player or move or whatever? Is it as simple as wanting to develop some kind of "us against the world" mentality? Some combination of that and trying to put the media pressure on himself instead of his players? Or as someone else suggested, the ravings a narcissist and megalomaniac?
I don't think it's particularly simple to call it any of these? They say the simplest explanation is often the best explanation, but they all seem relatively simple to me. I don't think one is easier than the other to choose. It has developed into a bit of an odd situation at times. There has been talk about what will happen if the 49ers start struggling. I find myself wondering, will that really make any difference? The relationship between Coach Harbaugh and the media, at least as it appears from afar, is not exactly warm and cuddly. Columnists might be more inclined to unload on Harbaugh in that case, but they're already starting to do that even with the victories. Does any of this really matter?
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - July 29, 2012
San Francisco 49ers
"I just want to visit with you. I'll be glad to take some questions afterwards. I just want to update you on the status of A.J. Jenkins, that topic. [WR] A.J. Jenkins was an outstanding football player when he got here. His progress has been very, very good and exceeded expectations. For those scribes, pundits, so called experts, who have gone as far to say that he is going to be a bust, should just stop. I recommend that because they are making themselves look more clueless than they've already did. To go on record, A.J.'s going to be an outstanding football player. So far in camp, what he's done in the offseason has led us to believe nothing but that he will be an outstanding football player in the National Football League."
That said, do you expect him to be a major contributor as a rookie?
"I expect him to have a great practice today. He has had two outstanding practices since we have been here at camp. It's been consistent, steady improvement every time he's come out here on the field or been in a meeting and it was already outstanding to begin with. If you recall the first day he was here, the first day we had him at the rookie minicamp, I said this is the best group of young receivers that I've ever been a part of in football as a player or a coach. It was good to start with. It is getting better and better each day. Yea, 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.' I foresee that happening."
That very first day you had mentioned about his conditioning he had been tired.
"I didn't say his specifically. I said the group. The group of rookies. I said they would eventually get there and they are there, they are there. And A.J. Jenkins, specifically, his conditioning is tip-top. People have a tendency to paraphrase and put quotes around it. I guess that in the English language that's grammatically correct, but it's not very professional."
Did you notice, was he concerned what people were saying about him?
"No, he has had a tremendous attitude. He's not even concerned with it at all, and that's one of the things that's been outstanding about him."
Do you, being around this game for a long time do you see that...
"I'm not going to tell you what to do. If you want to keep saying what you're saying, it's motivation, it's fuel for all of us. I think you do it at your own peril of looking clueless."
I guess it's a question of patience when people want to see stuff right away, how do you...
"Those comments were made before day one, or even before we've had our first official training camp practice."
How do you view a draft pick? Is it something you have to look at three, four years down the road?
"You know that's in a nice tidy box. I said what I said, I said what I wanted to say and you can do with that information what you will. The other thing is I know you got some concerns about your view of the practice field. Just some information for you before you make a knee-jerk reaction with a decision without enough information. What we have out there in the grass is just enough for our football players to practice, and we have 90 guys, and to be safe. There's a 70 yard field, there's a 90 yard field and then they have to be able to catch the ball and run out of bounds or run out of the endzone so we don't have the space to have football players, staff, trainers, managers, 90 of them competing with anybody else for grass space, let alone bodies or cameras, tripods, hand-held cameras. We just don't have the space. So that really goes for all guests. We've lost about 60,000 square feet of grass due to the two streets that have been installed. It's not an effort to keep the media away from the practice field or to give you a bad view of what's going (on) out there on the field. You are allowed to be here. We welcome you here. You have a job to do. We have a job to do, but also you have to be protected, our players have to be protected and that's the reason. If you have any questions on that, I'd be glad to answer them. And also, one other thing before I say that. I know you complained that you can't see across the field because we have a drill going on the far field. Those fields rotate daily, where the main field, the main quadrant. So day one was there. Day two was there. Day three will be on the close field. You'll have a bird's eye view of most all the action. So basically you're going to get a bird's eye view of 50 percent of all of our practice reps out there, out there on the field."
Back to A.J. for a second. One thing a couple days ago when you went over there was five number-one receivers and he wasn't listed among one of them. Is it the correct rationale to assume that those five that you mentioned, they're the five most experienced, and that's why...
"Yeah, we, that day we hadn't had a ..."
You were leaving him out because he hasn't played?
"Yeah, obviously. Before we had our first practice, we had that conversation. He's going to be an outstanding receiver. He already is. He's going to be good soon, real soon."
Obviously professional athletes ...
"I can't hear you, can you speak louder?"
Professional athletes, it somewhat comes with the territory, they deal with criticism from the media, from fans, obviously you know that. Why come up here and obviously really defend A.J.?
"I'm just stating the facts as I see them and believe them to be."
WR Michael Crabtree...
"[Responding to previous question] You like that. On the record. This is how we see it."
How do you see WR Michael Crabtree's status right now?
"There's something that he's working through."
Serious enough for MRI stuff?
"He's working through something."
Do you expect him out there on the field today?
What are you looking forward to seeing today when everyone has pads on that maybe previous practices haven't been able to show?
"You expect to see a ramping up. Today you put the armor on. That's a tremendous feeling for a football player, to do that. More real football, as it relates to how you play in the games. I know there's still things that you don't do to protect your players, to protect our team. Tackling to the ground. Going out of your way to keep a guy on his feet. Protect each other. When you put the shoulder pads on, the pants, the helmets, it's as close to real football and real games as you can get. I look forward to that."
WR A.J. Jenkins is one, WR Mario Manningham is another. You've got some smaller receivers than this team has had in the past. Are you looking forward to seeing how they do against press coverage? Have you gotten to look at press coverage yet or will this be...
"Well, first I wouldn't agree that they're smaller receivers. If you did the research and saw what the average starting receiver in the league weighed, you'd see that both of those guys are very similar to that average starting receiver in the National Football League. So, what was the question?"
Have you seen them versus press coverage yet in these practices that you've had up to this point or will this be the...
"There's been press, but there's been no real football where they're really putting their hands on them and bumping them, jolting them, thudding them at the line of scrimmage. It's been press shadow. Now, that'll begin to change now that we have the pads on."
Is this more about certainly being able to evaluate the guys in the trenches when the pads go on?
"No question about that. The guys up front really get a lot of work mentally over the course of the offseason. But to simulate playing low, playing hard, know playing aggressive, second, third effort, pads are required. So, that'll be the first thing we're going to really stress and focus on with these guys is getting them to play lower pad level coming off the offseason."
With pads on, sometimes tempers will flare up. And guys might want to battle with each other. A little extracurricular. I'm assuming you want none of that. You want no fights?
"Uh, no. We want no fights. When guys are punching other guys in the helmet, why would we want that? That's not going to help us win games. We'll be proactive with that and when tempers flare, you handle it. So, we have a team that's willing to do that together, coaches, staff, players handle those kind of issues-before they happen, hopefully."