By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Throughout his rookie season, San Francisco 49ers receiver Trent Taylor experienced discomfort and inflammation in his back.
Though he made 43 catches for 430 yards, the pain wasn’t something he could ignore, so he had what he called a “micro decompression” procedure this offseason to shave down the bone spurs causing the pain. San Francisco seemed confident that Taylor would be back in action by the time training camp rolled around. The surgery kept Taylor out for the first week and a half of camp.
“It’s been frustrating for me just to not be able to play football,” said Taylor. “I’ve never dealt with an injury or ever had surgery like that before. Throughout all of high school and college I’ve never missed a football game so just to have to sit and watch OTAs go on and practice early on in camp, it’s been tough.”
After returning last Tuesday, the diminutive Louisiana Tech product is ready to pick up where the 2017 season left off, providing an offensive boost for the 49ers, who begin their preseason schedule this Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys.
“It’s good to be back out there,” said Taylor earlier this week. “I’m out there with all of the guys and back to playing football so we’re doing good.”
The time on the shelf was frustrating for Taylor, who said he has always dealt with lower back pain.
“After the procedure, it was a lot of relaxing, taking it slow,” Taylor said. “So getting back into it, you’ve got to get used to making those cuts again. So that’s what we’re in the process of doing.”
Cleared to participate in individual and position drills, the 49ers began to ease Taylor into football conditions last Tuesday. In his first reps back, Taylor began work with starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, a player with whom he has some familiarity, dating back to last year’s 5-0 finish to an otherwise forgetful 6-10 season.
“Me and Jimmy, we do a good job of communicating to each other; talking about the routes that I run and what he expects and what I feel about certain routes,” said Taylor. “I’m looking forward to what we can do this year.”
Taylor’s optimism for the 2018 season is well placed. In 2017, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound slot receiver was a giant on the the 49ers stat sheets. With 18 third-down receptions for first downs, Taylor was tied for ninth among all pass catchers in the NFL. On top of that, he also tied with Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp for the most among all rookies in 2017.
Taylor’s production was most pronounced, however, after Garoppolo arrived in Week 12. Of his 43 receptions, 17 were made in the final five games of the season (39.5 percent) with Garoppolo at the helm.
With Garoppolo under center, Taylor also posted his best game of the season in Week 12: A six-catch, 92-yard performance in a win over Garoppolo’s hometown Bears on the road in Chicago.
“Trent is a smart player,” said Garoppolo. “He’s a smaller guy but he likes to go in between linebackers and things like that. He finds the soft spots in the defense that gives you an easy throw on third down. It’s a big thing for the defense to think about.”
While it may be a lofty comparison, Garoppolo’s assessment of Taylor’s game sounds eerily similar to another small slot receiver who gave NFL defenses nightmares when he was on the field: Former Patriots and Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker.
Taylor is nearly the carbon copy of Welker from a physical standpoint: Both stand 5-foot-9, weigh 180 pounds, have arm lengths of roughly 28 inches and run a 4.6-second 40-yard dash.
“There are definitely some similarities there. I can’t deny that,” said Taylor. “Guys like that are guys that I’ve always watched film on and I can take something from their game just like I can take something from anyone else’s game.
“Those are the kind of guys I kinda keep an eye on and watch how they run their routes because they have the same body type as me.”
In only his second season, Taylor has a long way to go if he hopes to climb his way up to Welker’s tier at some point in his career, but with playoff hopes high for the first full season with Garoppolo — who specializes in the short-to-intermediate routes — Taylor’s presence and production will be essential if the 49ers have any chance of making a postseason run.
Getting back on the field was the first step to that process, now it’s up to Taylor to get to work and regain his larger than life role.
“I feel like he’s ready for this second season,” said tight end George Kittle. “I know he’s healthy, finally. He’s just ready to go and he’s ready to make some plays.”
The 49ers host the Cowboys on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Levi’s Stadium.