Jauan Jennings’ dad hopes 49ers rookie can build NFL career he couldn't

Jauan Jennings’ dad hopes 49ers rookie can build NFL career he couldn't

The NFL draft was nearing its end when Bennie Jennings started preparing for a disappointment he knew all too well. His son Jauan Jennings was certainly worthy of selection after ending his University of Tennessee tenure on a high note. It was ultimately uncertain despite 969 receiving yards as a senior team captain.

Jauan Jennings’ stock was helped by an excellent 2019 campaign and a quality Senior Bowl week, but hindered some by a slow 40-yard dash at the combine. That created some doubt whether he’d get the honor of being drafted.

Bennie Jennings didn’t get that after an excellent career at the University of North Alabama, though the tight end now inducted into his school’s Hall of Fame got a chance with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that ultimately didn’t work out.

While Bennie understands the NFL business and the benefits of choosing a destination as an undrafted free agent, fingers remained crossed Jauan would be chosen.

“We talked about the fact that, when I went through the process, I never heard my name called,” Bennie Jennings said. “As soon as the draft was over my phone blew up. That was exciting, but it’s a bit disheartening to sit through the whole process and never get picked when you really think you’re going to be.

“I kind of tried to prepare him for that, but when his name flashed across the screen and it was announced, it was just an awesome feeling.”

The 49ers selected the high-school quarterback turned standout receiver at No. 217 overall. Maybe the pick came later than everyone hoped, but it was still a moment worth savoring.

“It means everything. Since he has been able to pick up a ball playing professionally is all he has wanted to do,” Bennie Jennings said. “It’s an awesome thing to see his dream come true.”

Jennings joins the 49ers ready to battle for a roster spot, known as a receiver in the Deebo Samuel mold. He’s strong and aggressive and excellent gaining yards after the catch, with competitiveness rarely rivaled.

“I look at this offense and I see a receiver like Deebo Samuel -- I’ve known him since the SEC days,” Jauan Jennings said in a conference call after being drafted. “He’s a great receiver and he’s always had that dog, that gritty attitude that I’m going to bring as well. [Quarterback] Jimmy Garoppolo, you got him in the backfield throwing the rock. It’s just going to be hard to stop us in my mind. We’ve got a lot of weapons and I just can’t wait to go out there and help.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

That 4.72-second 40-yard dash and speed in general is the primary knock held against him, one that has left NFL draft experts wondering if he’ll be able to separate at the professional level despite thriving in the SEC.

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt took great exception to that criticism in a radio interview just before the draft.

“I don’t care what Jauan Jennings runs in the 40,” Pruitt said on 99.1-FM in Knoxville, Tenn. “I don’t care what he jumps on a vertical. All I know is throw him the ball. You want the ball in the guy’s hands. Wherever he gets drafted, he’s going to play and he’s going to be an impact on the team.”

Pruitt knows all about Jennings’ competitiveness and perseverance. Those traits were clear after he rebounded from a difficult 2017 season where he missed most games with a wrist injury and then got kicked off the team by an interim head coach and an athletic director no longer there following a critical video post that went viral.

Pruitt gave him a clean slate and a chance to reassert himself. Jauan Jennings took full advantage, something of which his father was particularly proud.

“I got to see a kid grown into a man,” Bennie Jennings said. “He just developed and matured over that year, and before that going into his senior year. He has matured even more during that season. As a parent that’s what you want to see. You want to see them make strides and take that next step into becoming a man. That’s what I saw, and I very proud of him for what he has done.”

[RELATED: Why Jennings intrigues former GM McCloughan]

Bennie Jennings hopes his son can take the next step and establish an NFL career. Jennings didn’t latch on with the Buccaneers but quickly established a great and ongoing tenure in law enforcement. He has been in that field nearly 27 years now, currently working with the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Bennie was a Tennessee prep legend with a football state title to his credit. Jauan was 2014’s Mr. Football in Tennessee but never won a championship in that sport, though he got one in basketball. Father and son were even competitive over such high-level accomplishments, but Bennie Jennings would love nothing more than to see his son go farther than him in the NFL.

“I played at a small school, which was Division II back then, and you really had a lot of overcome to make an NFL team back in those days,” Bennie Jennings said. “You’ll hear no excuses from me. The reason I didn’t make it is because of me. When I learned what I did right and what I did wrong, I’ve given him all those experiences so he can capitalize on that.”

They both have a competitive streak and plenty of confidence as athletes, and Jauan should be helped by his dad’s experience as he tries to thrive with the 49ers.

“We have the same attitude toward the game, but I think he’s more intense,” Bennie Jennings said. “That’s what I hope I have instilled in him over the years, is that you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. If you want it, you have to take it. Nobody’s going to give it. That’s just him, but that’s also just me.”

How Jalen Hurd's physicality has stood out to 49ers' Raheem Mostert

How Jalen Hurd's physicality has stood out to 49ers' Raheem Mostert

Jalen Hurd only played in the preseason last year before a back injury ultimately cut short his rookie season, but the 49ers wide receiver nonetheless flashed intriguing potential with a two-touchdown performance against the Dallas Cowboys.

But Hurd's potential as a blocker is what most excites 49ers running back Raheem Mostert.

"[He's] gonna go out there and he's gonna put his all, especially with what I've seen these past couple years when he's been healthy," Mostert said of Hurd on Wednesday when he was asked about the 49ers' big receivers and their blocking ability. "Going out there, and trying to de-cleat somebody. That's inspiring in itself as a running back because you know that he's gonna do his job to the best of his ability, and he's gonna put his body out there on the line. Why not do the same as a runner?"

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Listed at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Hurd certainly has the measurables to be an effective run blocker. He also played running back at Tennessee before transitioning to wide receiver when he transferred to Baylor, checking the important "positional versatility" box for coach Kyle Shanahan.

The 49ers spoke openly of how much they value blocking contributions from skill-position players all along the way to Super Bowl LIV, and the role their wide receivers and tight ends played in San Francisco rushing for more yards (2,305) than any team but the Baltimore Ravens in the regular season. Shanahan said George Kittle set the tone in that regard.

“I mean, he had more yards in the pass game as a tight end in the history of the NFL [in 2018],” Shanahan said of the tight end in January. “So, any time you have a guy like that who's one of the best players on your team who's always just talking about running the ball and playing the physicality in the game and giving everything you can, it helps you hold everyone else a lot more accountable, and rarely do you have to."

[RELATED: Mostert knew he would remain with 49ers 'no matter what']

Can Hurd provide similar value during his first full NFL season in 2020? He has the size, and Mostert believes Hurd definitely has the skills.

"It's nice to see those guys out there coming back, especially Jalen, because he is a bigger receiver and he's more physical," Mostert continued. "He's one of -- probably the most physical receiver I've seen, tape-wise and even going out there practicing. It's nice to see him back."

Raheem Mostert knew he would remain with 49ers despite trade request

Raheem Mostert knew he would remain with 49ers despite trade request

After bursting onto the scene with a tremendous stretch during the latter portion of the 49ers' 2019 season, Raheem Mostert didn't have the offseason he expected coming off the field after San Francisco's loss in Super Bowl LIV.

The coronavirus pandemic put a wrench into everyone's plans, and Mostert had to think long and hard about whether he would play this coming season -- which, he will. But beyond that, he sought a salary increase commensurate with his level of production as compared to the other running backs on the roster. Mostert lacked leverage in contract negotiations with the team, though, and ultimately requested a trade.

That request wasn't received kindly by general manager John Lynch, but eventually was rescinded after the 49ers re-worked his contract with incentives that could significantly increase his 2020 salary. Mostert spoke with reporters Wednesday, and in addition to expressing his desire to prove last season was not a flash in the pan, he provided some additional context behind the contract negotiations (H/T 49ers Web Zone).

"It was long, and (there were) difficulties," Mostert explained. "But in the end, we were able to sit down and have communication, and it's a blessing to be here. It's one of those things where I knew it was going to be right regardless of how it played out. I knew that, in the end, it was going to be all right, and I was still going to be a Niner no matter what."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

From that, it would appear Mostert knew the reality of the situation. He never actually believed it would amount to him being moved, despite issuing a formal trade request. In relating the disagreement, Mostert compared the back-and-forth to brotherly love.

"This is a family, and we all understand that," he continued. "As you can see, what we've been through these past three, four years with the organization, going 6-10, then the following year, 4-12, and then the Super Bowl run last year, it just tells you that this is a family-based organization.

"We all really pride ourselves on being family. What family doesn't have those problems? I argue with my little brother. It's one of those things where I argue with him, but I also love him at the same time. That's what's going on here.

"We eventually got it fixed, and like I said, it's a blessing, and I'm glad to be here."

[RELATED: McKinnon gives Jimmy G another option in 49ers' offense]

Though the odds were always in favor of Mostert remaining with San Francisco, there's no question both he and the 49ers are better off having worked things out.

If all goes as they hope, both sides will be more than happy with the result.