With Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel unofficially listed as the 49ers' top two wide receivers, Jauan Jennings has been making a case for himself to make the squad as a backup.
For all intents and purposes, the Tennessee product is making his debut. Jennings did not have the benefit of a rookie minicamp after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft as a result of COVID-19 protocols.
Then in October of his rookie season, the receiver sustained a serious hamstring injury that forced the 49ers to place him on injured reserve. Kyle Shanahan later reported that it was nearly a complete tear. Jennings hoped he would be able to return before the end of the season, but it was not to be.
Finally healthy, Jennings has been flashing in training camp, as well as the 49ers' preseason opener. The wideout caught one of his two targets for 26 yards and recorded two carries for 23 yards.
Shanahan says there are no guaranteed spots in the receivers room, but that he has been pleased with how the second-year pro has been preforming thus far.
“I think all our spots are open,” Shanahan said Monday. “I know we’ve got the guys who are most likely to make the team at the upper spots, [but] we don't have 1, 2, 3 or 4 settled. I want those guys going out there competing and showing they can play good football.
“I've been extremely impressed with Jauan, how he's gone out there and done that. And it's only one game in, but I need everyone else to get to that level also.” This year has not been issue-free for Jennings, who spent the beginning of training camp on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Once back on the field, the 24-year-old’s enthusiasm clearly was evident, dancing and jumping around through team warmups.
Jennings is known for his ability to gain yards after contact. In 2019, the former Volunteer led the nation with 29 broken tackles on 57 receptions, which is an ability that Shanahan looks for in all of his players.
“It's old school and he goes out there and he competes,” Shanahan said. “It's been nice for him to get back, get healthy and it was good to see him in his first game. That's how he looked in college. Jauan, he plays like his hair is on fire, and I think a lot of our receivers can learn from watching him.”
Both Shanahan and John Lynch look for players who love football, and Jennings clearly has that quality. He not only has impressed on the field, but has made it a goal to take care of himself off the field. Jennings worked with team nutritionists to eat healthier, which will improve his performance in the long run.
“Just grinding,” Jennings said Monday. “I feel better, I’m just working my tail off. I can’t wait until the next one. I love football. That’s why I chose it. I got to play like that for my team. I just try and go out there and make the best plays.”