SANTA CLARA – Jim Harbaugh was itching to talk this afternoon.
He wasn’t scheduled to speak. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman was, and Harbaugh was supposed to wait until Monday, but Harbaugh couldn’t wait.
He sat in the back of the media tent and voraciously ate his lunch (greens, a roll, what looked like roast beef and a tall glass of milk) off of his lap while Roman answered questions. After Harbaugh finished his food, Roman wasn’t finished, so Harbaugh put his elbows on his knees and leaned forward with his mouth open staring at his offensive coordinator, ready to explode out of his chair the instant Roman finished up.
Roman went on. Harbaugh sat back in his chair and crossed his legs crossed and his arms folded against his chest. Then he leaned forward against his knees again. He sighed. He couldn’t sit still.
After about 13 minutes, Roman wrapped up his press conference, at which point Harbaugh bounded to the podium, and this is what he said:
HARBAUGH: I want to update you on the status of A.J. Jenkins. A.J. Jenkins was an outstanding football player when he got here. His progress has been very, very good and exceeded expectations. For those – the scribes, pundits, so-called experts who have gone as far as to say that he’s going to be a bust should just stop because they’re making themselves look foolish. I’m going to go on record and say A.J. Jenkins is going to be an outstanding football player. What he’s done in the offseason has led us to believe that he will be nothing but an outstanding football player in the National Football League.
Q: That said, do you expect him to be a major contributor as a rookie?
HARBAUGH: I expect him to have a great practice today. He’s had two outstanding practices since we’ve been here at camp, and it’s been consistent, steady improvement every time he’s been out on the field or been in a meeting. And it was already outstanding to begin with. You will recall on the first day of 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 and it’s getting better and better each day. I’m going to keep track of some of these names of the so-called experts who are making these comments and there’s going to be an “I told you so.” I foresee that happening.
Q: You said on the first day he was out of shape.
HARBAUGH: I didn’t say him specifically, I said the group. The group of rookies, and I said that they would eventually get there, and they are there. A.J. Jenkins specifically, his conditioning is tip-top.
Q: Was he concerned about what people are saying about him?
HARBAUGH: No, he has had a tremendous attitude. He’s not even concerned with it at all. That’s one of the many things that’s been outstanding about him. I’m not telling you what to do. If you want to keep saying what you’re saying, it’s motivation, it’s fuel for all of us.
Q: When can we judge A.J. Jenkins? Three or four years from now?
HARBAUGH: I said what I said. It’s in a nice, tidy box. I said what I wanted to say, and you can do with that information what you will. The other thing is I know you have some concerns about your view of the practice field. Just some information for you before you make a knee-jerk reaction without enough information. What we have out there on the grass is just enough for our football players to practice. We have 90 guys. There’s a 70-yard field and a 90-yard field. They have to be able to catch the ball and run out of bounds or run out of the end zone. We don’t have the space to have football players, staff, trainers, managers competing with anybody else for grass space. We just don’t have the space. 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 practice field. You’re allowed to be here, we welcome you here and 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. And also, one other thing, I know you complained that you can’t see across the field when we have drills going on on the far field. Those field rotate daily where the main quadrant is. Day 1 was there, Day 2 was there, Day 3 will be on the close field. You’ll have a bird’s eye view of most all the action. Basically you’re going to get a bird’s eye view of 50 percent of all of our practice reps.
Q: Dealing with criticism comes with the territory of being a professional athlete. Why do you come up here and defend A.J.?
HARBAUGH: I’m just stating the facts as I see them and believe them to be. You like that? On the record, this is how I see it.
Q: What’s Michael Crabtree’s injury status?
HARBAUGH: There’s something that he’s working through physically.
Q: Does it warrant an MRI?
HARBAUGH: He’s working through something.
Q: Do you expect him on the field today?
HARBAUGH: Not today.
Q: You’ve added Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins. This team now has some smaller receivers than it’s had in the past. Have you gotten to see them against press coverage yet?
HARBAUGH: Well, first I wouldn’t agree that they’re smaller receivers. If you did the research and saw what the average wide receiver in the National Football League weighed, you’d see that those two guys are very similar to that average. So what was the question?
Q: Have you seen them against press coverage yet?
HARBAUGH: 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 at the line of scrimmage. It’s been press shadow.