The Jim Harbaugh/Trent Baalke 49ers communicate their true thoughts by what they do, not what they say.

Sometimes, that's how they communicate even to themselves.

For Harbaugh, football on its own is pure -- the on-field competition, the strategy and the struggle for jobs and victories.

But the words surrounding all that ... ?

If you've ever talked to Harbaugh, you know that his public words about his players are mostly elaborate, randomly entertaining filler.

It's what he does that matters: Who plays, who doesn't, and how the games are managed.

In the middle of last season, Harbaugh maintained, for a bit, that Alex Smith was still the 49ers' starting quarterback, even while Colin Kaepernick was actually starting. And winning.

Coach Jim Harbaugh, left, watches as first -round draft pick, A.J. Jenkins holds up his new jersey, while General Manager, Trent Baalke, is at right,
Coach Jim Harbaugh, left, watches as first -round draft pick, A.J. Jenkins holds up his new jersey, while General Manager, Trent Baalke, is at right, during a press conference at the San Francisco 49'ers practice facility, in Santa Clara, on Friday, April 27, 2012. (Karen T. Borchers/Staff)

The words were irrelevant. The action was the truth. Kaepernick was the QB, period.

That's the purest way to view the 49ers' decision this week to give up on 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins by trading him to Kansas City for another underperforming young wide receiver, Jonathan Baldwin.

Baalke drafted Jenkins, yes. And Harbaugh occasionally went to absurd rhetorical lengths to defend Jenkins over the last few years.

But the practical football truth was clearer.

Going into last year's training camp and all the way until Jenkins was dispatched this week, Harbaugh and his staff didn't trust Jenkins enough to play him beyond a few cameo snaps ... leading to zero regular-season catches.


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It didn't matter what Harbaugh or his coaches said; you just had to watch what they did with Jenkins. Which was as little as possible.

It continued this training camp; Jenkins just wasn't a receiver the coaches or quarterbacks were ever going to trust, and the playing time and production were proof.

That was Harbaugh telling Baalke that Jenkins wasn't cutting it.

That was football being pure, despite Jenkins' first-round pedigree and all that Baalke and the 49ers had invested in him. And that's how I view Harbaugh's extreme comments about Jenkins last training camp, when he essentially said that anybody who doubted Jenkins was a fool and would be treated as such by the 49ers.

There's a subtext to this, and it's not just about Harbaugh's relationship with outsiders. Though it's surely a little about that, too.

It's about Harbaugh and Baalke's relationship, which Harbaugh and CEO Jed York both describe as an edgy match of talented, opinionated equals.

The Harbaugh-Baalke partnership has obviously served the 49ers very well the last few years, and the roster is nearly beyond criticism.

Baalke rules the draft -- he has contractual control of the team's 53-man roster.

And he has flooded the locker room with young talent, from Kaepernick to Aldon Smith to Mike Iupati to NaVorro Bowman.

But there are always blips. Jenkins was a big blip in the 49ers' personnel history and in the back-and-forth between coach and G.M.

Because Harbaugh is so determined to avoid direct evaluations of his players, and because Baalke rarely speaks in public, you have to read the public comments carefully.

When Harbaugh went nutty standing up for Jenkins last summer, that was one of those times.

"For those, the scribes, the pundits, so-called experts who have gone so far as to say he's going to be a bust, should just stop," Harbaugh said in July 2012 of Jenkins.

"I recommend that. They're making themselves look more clueless than they already did. I'll go on record: A.J. is going to be an outstanding football player ...

"I'm going to keep track of these names of these so-called experts that are making these comments, and there's going to be an 'I told you so.' I foresee that happening."

Check the history -- Harbaugh hasn't backed any other 49ers player quite like that.

Jenkins was a player Baalke drafted, that Baalke got criticized for drafting, and that Harbaugh was singling out for vehement defense.

But wouldn't play.

And interestingly, after last season, Harbaugh looked at the 2013 draft, and all the 49ers' picks, and metaphorically pointed to his G.M.

"Trent Baalke has to be on his 'A' game -- this could make you," Harbaugh told CSN Bay Area in March.

"You could be the next Bill Polian, the next Ozzie Newsome. It all hinges on this draft. So it's exciting."

There's more than subtext there. Baalke might've hit all home runs with his picks, including first-rounder Eric Reid, and he might not have.

We don't know. We know Harbaugh will praise the players in public, and then we'll know the truth when we see who plays and who doesn't.

Games are pure that way. It's exactly the way Harbaugh and Baalke want it, and how we can judge both of them. And also each man separately.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.