SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Jim Harbaugh hobbled out wide to the line of scrimmage in his trademark black sweatshirt and khaki pants, smirking back at a group of rookie receivers out of breath on a sunny Silicon Valley day.
Harbaugh hustled all over the field during his first 49ers rookie minicamp Friday, and that the workout actually took place - something that never happened last year during the NFL lockout - might've been the most positive result. Several players appeared tired and timid, notably first-round pick A.J. Jenkins of Illinois, and some even had to be spelled at times to a 48-year-old coach with bad knees.
"Out of shape, that's the bad news," Harbaugh said of his new bunch. "Good news is that it's a very talented group of those young receivers. You could tell that right away. But the bad news is we've got to get them in shape. I don't know exactly what all these guys have been doing in the last six months."
The reigning NFL Coach of the Year's rare critical comments weren't a slip up.
With Harbaugh, nothing is accidental.
The second-year San Francisco coach clearly wanted to make a statement to his newest players - and perhaps nobody more than Jenkins - that such subpar performances will not be tolerated, going as far as to call the 49ers a "meritocracy," a system where everything is earned.
The speedy wide receiver drafted 30th overall left a lasting memory on his first day in a 49ers uniform for the wrong reason.
About halfway through the morning's 90-minute practice, the receivers broke into a balance and speed race, otherwise known as the figure-eight drill. Jenkins lost at least two races - the first by just a nose - to undrafted rookie Chris Owusu of Stanford and never recovered, dropping two passes and looking lethargic the rest of the way.
Jenkins, who had exchanged Twitter messages with Jerry Rice about running up the mountain hills nearby with the former 49ers great, might not be ready for any steep inclines. Jenkins had bags of ice wrapped around his thighs and hamstrings - standard training camp treatment - after his first practice.
"I've got to step my game up a little bit," said Jenkins, adding that his hectic schedule before and after the draft broke his workout routine. "I've got to get in shape. But as far as everything else, I think I did pretty good. I knew what I had to do, knew all my assignments, I think I did pretty good."
Harbaugh said he's looking for "creative destruction" from all the rookies, "somebody that's going to come in here and kind of upset a position that's already established on this team."
One player that seemed to have no problem keeping up with Harbaugh's frenetic pace was lightning-quick LaMichael James, the former Oregon running back. The undersized second-round pick also fielded kickoffs and punts in his first practice under Harbaugh, whose last loss in college came against James and the Ducks in 2010.
"I went to Oregon," James said, "so everything's quick-paced at Oregon and I'm pretty used to the tempo."
Former Stanford quarterback - and current Cardinal assistant - Tavita Pritchard was signed as a quarterback for the camp, tossing passes in a system he knows well. Even Pritchard, who is helping out a friend in Harbaugh and not competing for a job, had to laugh at all the taxed rookies who showed up out of shape.
"Same old Harbaugh," Pritchard said. "Nothing's changed."
San Francisco also will hold rookie practices on the weekend, which are not open to the media. Harbaugh's goal is to give the rookies a solid foundation of his complex playbook and an understanding of the team's workout routine so they're prepared for the full offseason minicamps and training camp.
As of now, the rookies have a ways to go.
"I knew that these guys weren't working out as hard as our guys have been working out," Harbaugh said. "Because our guys are just fanatical with the way they work out and the way they approach their cardio. So I knew it wasn't going to be as good as our guys. But, yeah, we have a ways to go.
"It's not a panic button or anything. I knew where it was going to be. And it's just a process of going from A to Z, and everybody's at a certain point and we'll get them there."
NOTES: OLB Darius Fleming, drafted in the fifth round out of Notre Dame, tweaked a hamstring and sat out the morning practice. He said the injury is minor and doesn't expect to miss much, if any, further time. ... C Chase Beeler, a practice squad member last season and a former first-team All-American at Stanford, broke a bone in his right hand in a weight-room incident and is not expected to participate in on-field drills for at least two more weeks, Harbaugh said.
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