The 49ers are searching for any wide receivers that’ll step up and take ownership of the handful of roster spots open behind presumed starters Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. While players like Mohamed Sanu and Trent Sherfield have emerged over the course of camp – it was 2020 seventh-round pick Jauan Jennings who stole the show in Saturday’s preseason opener.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan heaped praise on the second-year receiver after his NFL debut against the Chiefs.

“I was excited with how Jauan played,” Shanahan said. “I mean, he’s a physical guy who loves to play football and I wanted to see it transfer over to the game and make sure he could still stay under enough control and do his assignments also. And if you watched him in the running game, he really got after it trying to bring the maximum effort every play. How he dug out those safeties on blocks, how he’s blocking on the backside, on the corners. And then when he got his opportunities when the ball was thrown to him, he came through. We hit him on that seam and on a couple of screens that he hit hard and got us, I think, two first downs on them.’

Jennings last year never got any game action because of the COVID-19 pandemic which forced the NFL to eliminate its preseason schedule. He spent the year on the practice squad, and by the time the 49ers got around to needing him, he was sidelined by a hamstring injury.

There were some questions about how Jennings’ game would translate from college to the NFL after he posted relatively lackluster workout numbers in pre-draft workouts. Shanahan said what they saw Saturday was akin to what Jennings put on film at the University of Tennessee.

“He was a really good college football player. You could tell how much he enjoys playing the game. How good his hands were, how physical he plays,” Shanahan said. “Didn’t light up the combine or anything, which we mess with him over but that’s his game. I mean, it’s old school and he goes out there and he competes. And he got a late start last year, not having any off season with the pandemic and stuff, but he came on really strong in like Weeks 4 through 8 where we thought he was going to end up helping us a little bit last year and then he had that bad injury. So 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.”

Jennings caught his only pass for 26 yards. He also caught two screens that went down as run plays for 23 yards. While he may lack top-end speed or burst, the 49ers’ head coach lauded his second-year receiver for his hard-nosed playing style.

“So you’ve got to have a certain skill set that allows you to at least get in there to compete,” Shanahan said. “But if you do, where you go with that is how good of a football player you are, how hard you compete, how much don’t hesitate. And Jauan, he plays like his hair is on fire. And I think a lot of our receivers can learn from watching him.”

If Jennings can put himself in a great position to make the team and have a role in the offense if he can start carving out a role as a leader in the receivers room while simultaneously showing that his skill set does translate to the pros.

Shanahan dropped a little bit of hint that Jennings could be pushing himself to the top of the pack in what’s a crowded battle at wide receiver. If nothing else Jennings’ competitiveness will curry favor with the coaching staff when it comes time to put together the final roster.

“I mean, we had a lot of young guys play last year by default with the injuries that happen and some of the situations we were in,” Shanahan said. “So I want those guys going out there competing and showing they can play good football. And I’ve been really impressed with (WR) Trent (Sherfield) so far with how he’s done that. 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.”

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