SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -Ten months after his daughter died, Taylor Jacobs quietly left the hospital where his son was born last weekend and dashed to Candlestick Park.
A tumultuous, tragic year has been getting much better recently for the veteran receiver. Though Jacobs was an afterthought when the San Francisco 49ers opened training camp several weeks ago, he appears to be playing his way into a job with both a dynamite training camp and a new perspective on life.
``I've just been working hard and believing in good things, and especially focusing on the mental aspect,'' Jacobs said as the 49ers broke training camp Wednesday. ``In the past, I think that's been my biggest hindrance. Not that I'm weak-minded, it's just that I'm real hard on myself.''
Jacobs knows his NFL career has been a disappointment, both to the receiver himself and to the two clubs that have employed him. He was an underachiever during his first three NFL seasons with the Washington Redskins, and his daughter's death from sudden infant death syndrome consumed his first season in San Francisco last fall.
With just 34 catches in his first four seasons, Jacobs seemed unlikely to make the team after the 49ers' offseason acquisitions of Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie.
But just when Jacobs was falling, he picked himself up. With one outstanding practice after another, he has played his way into position for a significant role with the 49ers - perhaps as their No. 3 receiver.
``I want to be a big productivity guy,'' Jacobs said. ``I want to be contributing in any kind of way that I can. I don't want to take any situation for granted. I want to play every play all-out.''
Jacobs did just that last weekend, rushing from the birth of his son, Taylor Jr., to the 49ers' preseason game against Oakland. He napped in the locker room until kickoff, then didn't play much - and it still didn't deflate his stock with the 49ers.
San Francisco coach Mike Nolan said Jacobs is ``clearly the third guy to me right now.'' Jacobs lines up in San Francisco's three-receiver sets at practice, showcasing the speed and soft hands that made him a college star at Florida and a second-round pick by the Redskins in 2003.
``He's done a great job of knowing what we expect of him, and then doing it,'' Nolan said. ``He's made a lot of progress. He's working hard and competing in practice, but he's also playing smarter than I think he ever did before.''
Jacobs gained a new maturity over the past year when his life changed dramatically. Just two months after the 49ers acquired him in a trade last fall, his 2 1/2-month-old daughter, Taryn, died while at home with his wife, Christine.
Jacobs was devastated, but leaned on his strong Christian faith. At the same time, he worked tirelessly with the 49ers' coaches, who gave him distractions and goals, along with instruction he rarely received when he first entered the league.
``I think the most of coach (Joe) Gibbs as a guy,'' Jacobs said. ``I can't say enough good things about him. But really, in Washington, I came in and they already had a lot of receivers, so I slipped under the radar and got lost in the shuffle.''
Jacobs also has auditioned as a punt returner, volunteering for any duty that will help him make the 49ers' roster. He feels faster and smarter than ever, and he simply hopes that feeling leads to more good things in the months ahead.
``People have always told me that I have talent, that I've been one of the most talented guys,'' Jacobs said. ``If (training camp) has told me one thing, it's really, 'Have confidence in yourself. You're good enough to be a player in the NFL. Just have confidence in yourself and go out there and make plays.'''

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