A few posts now have mentioned the 49ers looking at Tavon Austin. Whether it's real or not, it would be quite an indicator of what management really thinks of AJ Jenkins.
Up until now, I've actually been pretty forgiving of AJ's lack of performance last year. Receivers take two years to mature (blossom in year 3). AJ wouldn't even have seen a game-day roster if we hadn't had so many injuries at the position.
The different threads got me thinking about an article I read about a year ago describing Jenkins when he was drafted. As I searched for the article, I saw a trend that surprised me a little, and one I didn't like.
To summarize, Jenkins was ready to leave Illinois after his first two years on the team. Jenkins showed up at head coach Ron Zook's office, with his dad, to request a release so that AJ could transfer to a smaller school. Apparently he was homesick and didn't like his puny role on the team. Zook asked them to meet with Petrino and AJ's father cam away impressed. "He was kind of tough and rugged, and I felt like AJ needed that anyway."
You can interpret this a lot of ways, but it comes across to me as a kid without a lot of fight. Situation was tough, so AJ was ready to just go somewhere else, and his dad pushed him to fight it out.
Petrino and AJ went on to have a great relationship, but Petrino constantly had to push AJ to improve and get better. A quote from Petrino after AJ's best college game, "The biggest thing (AJ) needs to do is show up every day at practice, work as hard as he can, and not get too worried about reading the newspaper and reading about himself too much." What did Petrino feel compelled to tell AJ after he got drafted? "Make sure you get a run in tomorrow. Don't relax. And make sure you have your ass in shape for minicamp."
In case you don't remember, AJ debated showing up for camp late so that he could attend his graduation, and then proceeded to show up at minicamp on time, but out of shape.
In a separate interview with head coach Ron Zook, Ron praised AJ but then gave the following feedback, "The one think he's got to work on - he's a tough kid, don't get me wrong, but I always wanted him to be a grass-eater and go knock people out."
OK, I'm not sure what a grass-eater is, but I get that AJ wasn't mean enough or angry enough to "knock people out."
49ers brass have been a bit vague at times regarding what the issues are with AJ. They've said he has to get stronger. but the guy is 6", 190, and benched 225 12 times at the combine. Seems strong enough for a receiver to me. In fact, I'd hate to see him lose his speed by putting on too much weight.
Even Balke choose interesting words in a pre-Super Bowl interview on the subject, "Like I always believe, if you put them in the right situation, and you give them the opportunities, and you've picked the right person, and they're competitive by nature, they'll figure it out.
What threw me in the above quote was the "and they're competitive by nature" addition.
All ex football players say the game is 80% mental. Players train year round in the ultimate competitive environment. You have to be able to handle the grind. The players that succeed seem to have a fire inside, a chip on their shoulder, or an ego that won't let them fail. AJ has the god-given talent. I've seen enough film. How bad does he want it?
So, my question, is AJ too laid back for the NFL? Can a player that needs constant pushing succeed at this level? Is it a maturity thing, or at his core does AJ just not have an NFL mindset?
I know the timing of this post is off, being its draft time, but there are enough questions for me now after reviewing all the old AJ quotes above that we have to draft a wide receiver this year. I don't want to reach for Tavon Austin, but we should be including someone in our mock drafts. No choice with all the 2013 contracts expiring.