Saturday's preseason game against the Houston Texans provided a welcome reminder of what makes Trent Taylor so special. His two receptions for seven yards illustrated what he does best: create separation off the line of scrimmage. Taylor's first reception was a two-yard touchdown on a quick slant to the middle of the end zone. His second helped the San Francisco 49ers convert on 3rd-and-4.
Even as he's entering just his second season in the NFL, an argument could be made that Taylor's short-area quickness is already among the best of any receiver in the league.
Pro Football Focus supports that claim. According to PFF, Taylor was the only player to catch all of his targets on slant routes in 2017. His 15 receptions on such routes resulted in 189 yards and one touchdown, as well as a collective 141.0 passer rating for quarterbacks throwing the football.
"That's what Trent is good at," Kyle Shanahan said. "If he gets an edge on someone, he can double someone up and gain separation. On (the touchdown), he gained a lot of separation. Then the middle-third player was out of the way so we were able to hit him late."
Taylor was the third read in Jimmy Garoppolo's progression. Luckily, protection held up and gave Garoppolo just enough time to spot Taylor running free across the middle of the end zone.
"I just gave him the simple one-two, I guess," Taylor said of the play. "It's something that we practice every day. Coach Shanahan always harps on being deliberate with our feet. I just did it like we always practice and it worked."
The 49ers starting slot receiver missed the first two weeks of training camp as well as the team's preseason opener. San Francisco didn't want to rush Taylor's return as he rehabbed from offseason back surgery. Taylor eased his way back into practice, starting with individual drills, and then a few reps in 1-on-1's before being cleared for full-team work.
His best day of practice thus far came last Wednesday in a joint session against the Texans. Taylor was Garoppolo's go-to target amid an otherwise difficult day for the offense. Making it through the two competitive practices, coupled with the Houston heat, were an indication to Taylor that he was nearing full strength.
"Just kind of day-by-day, I can feel my legs starting to get stronger," Taylor said. "It's always good to be able to feel improvement as you work. I've still got a little ways to go. It definitely felt good being out there."
Patience is every athlete's greatest challenge when coming back from an injury. But Taylor endured the process, and now he's wasting no time reminding us that he'll be a vital piece in the 49ers offense in 2018 and beyond.