A.J. Jenkins cringes when he hears the word “bust” attached to his name.
“I know I was a first-round pick years ago,” the newest Dallas Cowboys receiver said. “But I’m not even on that Earth any more.
“I’m kind of just trying to make a team. I’m trying to be a part of this great organization, and they gave me an opportunity, so I’m going to make the best of it.”
Jenkins signed a contract with the Cowboys last week, nearly three months after he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs.
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The San Francisco 49ers gave up on Jenkins after just one uneventful season. They chose Jenkins in the first round — No. 30 overall — of the 2012 NFL Draft.
But the 49ers were so uninspired by Jenkins’ performance that he was only active for three games as a rookie, played just 37 offensive snaps, had no catches and was targeted only once during a season in which San Francisco advanced to the Super Bowl.
After that season, the 49ers quickly parted ways with Jenkins.
Things weren’t much better for Jenkins with the Chiefs. In his two years in Kansas City, Jenkins caught only 17 passes for 223 yards in 25 games.
Suddenly, Jenkins found himself unemployed again when the Chiefs released him on Feb. 17.
Even Jenkins admits that, although the Cowboys have given him new life, his career is on shaky ground.
The Cowboys continue organized team activities next week at Valley Ranch.
“I know how it looks. I definitely know how it looks,” Jenkins said. “But just the position that I was put in at that point and time [in San Francisco], I don’t really see myself as being a failure or nothing like that.
“My clock is ticking, I know that. So I’ve got to hurry up and make some plays and do something.”
The Cowboys lost receiver Dwayne Harris to free agency and recently cut Chris Boyd to make room for Jenkins. Along with Devin Street, the Cowboys are hoping Jenkins will be able to add some depth at the receiver spot behind Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley.
And although he is in catch-up mode as far as learning the playbook is concerned, Jenkins is not in position to offer any excuses.
“I have to definitely go out there every single day and work hard,” Jenkins said. “That’s one thing that coach [Jason] Garrett does talk about every single day is every guy is accountable.
“Even though I came late, I’m not trying to be that guy that doesn’t know what he’s doing and that doesn’t know what’s going on. Pretty much my main focus right now is just trying to study that playbook and just get as much knowledge and catch up as fast as I can.”
The Cowboys view Jenkins as a player with a huge upside.
“We’re always trying to improve our team,” Garrett said. “I think our personnel department has done a great job always kind of examining the landscape of personnel, and finding different guys that they think can help our team that we can evaluate.
“In some cases, we bring them in. We signed A.J. Jenkins, the receiver from that workout last week, so we think all those things are positive for us.”
The 49ers had high expectations for Jenkins, who made 146 receptions for 2,022 yards and 15 touchdowns during his last two seasons at Illinois.
But the All-Big Ten selection never did live up to San Francisco’s hope and couldn’t fit in with a talented cast of receivers that included Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr., Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams.
Jenkins, 25, hopes that all changes with the Cowboys, although he’s more inclined now to just fly under the radar.
“I’m just trying to be part of the Cowboys,” the 6-foot, 200-pound Jenkins said. “I don’t need to have any expectations.
“I want to see if I can go out there every day and just show the coaches and the organization that they made a good decision by signing me. That’s my main focus.”
Although his stay was short-lived, Jenkins was appreciative of the time he spent with the 49ers.
“That was a program that was pretty stacked at the time,” he said. “We went to the Super Bowl, so I experienced that.
“It was cool, it was a good run, it was a long season, but it was a good stretch. The guys that I was able to play with like Randy Moss and Crabtree, I don’t take it for granted, so I took as much advice as I could from those guys and now I’m trying to find my way in this league.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760