49ers

Trent Taylor's return to full health could pay big dividends for 49ers

Trent Taylor's return to full health could pay big dividends for 49ers

SANTA CLARA — After a challenging sophomore season returning from back surgery, a productive OTAs and minicamp has 49ers receiver Trent Taylor set for a comeback in 2019. 

Taylor has been very visible during the offseason program as opposed to last offseason when he was forced to sit out. The receiver-quarterback chemistry that was apparent when Jimmy Garoppolo first took his place under center in 2017, appears to be back in full swing. 

“Yeah, definitely,” Garoppolo said Wednesday. “Trent’s so savvy. It’s awesome having a guy like that in the slot. He feels space differently than most guys. 

“He knows his strengths and he knows his weaknesses and he’s going to do everything he can to make the weaknesses better. He doesn’t have many them, but it’s just when you have a guy like that it makes my job very easy.” 

Quarterback Nick Mullens also has noticed the return of Taylor’s explosiveness. They have connected several times during team drills. 

 “One hundred percent,” Mullens said Wednesday. “I think people always refer back to Trent’s rookie year when he kind of burst onto the scene and was a third down go-to. You can tell. Definitely a difference. 

“It’s awesome for Trent to be healthy. It’s been a grind for him to get back, so super happy and proud for him. He’s definitely let people know Trent’s back this year during camp." 

Coach Kyle Shanahan knows 2018 was a challenge for Taylor. He saw improvement from the third-year pro right away when he returned to the field. 

“It was so hard for Trent last year just because he was battling that back thing all of last offseason, so he missed a whole offseason of working out, which is a huge deal,” Shanahan said on Tuesday. “Trent spent his whole time away healthy. He had no setbacks with his back, so we could see the first day he got back here when he ran routes that he was feeling better. 

“Each day, he’s been able to stack those days up of trying to get better, not just trying to get his back to feel better. Now Trent is right back to where we expected him to be after his rookie year.” 

[RELATED: 49ers have enough depth to overcome injuries]

Taylor finished his rookie season catching 43 of his 60 targets for 412 yards, two touchdowns and a 71.1-percent catch percentage. His second season was less productive with 26 completions on 41 targets and one touchdown.

“He had a good rookie year, but we expected him to come back better,” Shanahan said. “We still thought he needed to improve in a number of ways after his rookie year, and when he came back, he just came back hurt. That was tough, and he took a step back. We expect him to get back to his rookie year and we expect him to be better.

"And he’s on his way to doing that right now.”

Jimmie Ward has learned lessons and is showing why 49ers wanted him back

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USATSI

Jimmie Ward has learned lessons and is showing why 49ers wanted him back

SANTA CLARA – Jimmie Ward applied a lesson he learned from his second NFL game  to help the 49ers preserve a 20-7 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

On the night Levi’s Stadium opened for its first regular-season game in 2014, Ward struggled as the 49ers’ nickel back against the Chicago Bears’ Brandon Marshall in the 49ers’ 28-20 loss. Ward, the 49ers' first-round draft pick that year, yielded three touchdown passes to Marshall, who was 6 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than Ward.

“He was a good wide receiver,” Ward recalled at his locker this week. “I didn’t know how to play a bigger wide receivers at the time. That was a good learning experience. I say that was a bad game, but when I watch film now, it was a learning game. I learned so much. Any time I get beat, I’m learning from it. Look at this year right now, getting beat in previous years in man coverage got me better for this opportunity this year.”

On Sunday, the 49ers’ offense left the door open for the Rams with a turnover in the fourth quarter. But Ward broke up back-to-back passes on third and fourth downs on short throws from Jared Goff intended for tight end Gerald Everett and wide receiver Cooper Kupp – two players significantly larger than Ward.

“The experiences of getting beat in years before, different body receivers compared to tight ends -- you got to play them guys different ways,” Ward said. “You got to know where you’re help’s at on the defense. What I struggled with over the years was just not using my help, too. I can’t play every guy the same. I can’t play a guy that’s twice my size aggressive. That’s suicide. He can out-body you, out-jump you. You got to play smart.”

Ward is back in the starting lineup at free safety after healing from a broken ring finger on his right hand, an injury he sustained before the season opener. Tarvarious Moore started the first three games.

In his two games back, Ward has shown exactly why the 49ers have continued to have a high opinion of his temperament, tenacity and skills despite his history of injuries.

Four of Ward’s five NFL seasons ended with him going to injured reserve with broken bones. Then after signing a one-year, prove-it contract to return to the 49ers, he sustained a fracture to his collarbone, which kept him out of the first part of training camp. Then, the broken finger and subsequent surgery sidelined him at the start of the regular season.

Ward said he never took it for granted the 49ers would want to bring him back after the club won just 10 games combined over the past two seasons. But even after Ward sustained a second season-ending forearm fracture in two years, the club wanted him back. Coach Kyle Shanahan and the entire coaching staff did not want Ward to play anywhere else but with the 49ers.

“Especially during losing seasons, nobody’s safe,” Ward said. “Like, not even the people who are working around the building. They might replace them. I never thought I was safe. I always believed in working. So that’s what it is.

“That’s why I’m hurtin’ because I’m workin’. I wouldn’t get hurt if I wasn’t workin’. I wouldn’t get hurt if I wasn’t putting it all out there on the line. I’d be OK. I’d come out with no nicks and no bruises.”

[RELATED: 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan cracks jokes about Robert Saleh, Washington]

While those who play with him, coach him and are around him every day universally have high opinions of Ward as an unselfish player and person, there is a segment of the fans who have taken to social media platforms to show a lack of empathy for all of his injuries.

Now, of course, Ward is receiving praise for the contributions he made in the victories over Cleveland and the Rams.

Ward has been through enough to know that things can change in a hurry.

“It’s cool, but it’s not going to get me a ring,” he said.

He added: "Faithful, 49ers fans, I love them to death. Keep cheering. We need you at those games. Keep buying those tickets. . . . I’ve been playing hard, I’ve been breaking bones without people gassing me and when people tell me I’m a bust and I suck, so it’s cool. I appreciate it, but at the same time, it means nothing. It’s just like being 5-0 right now. We haven’t done anything, yet. We got to do something first.”

49ers players aren't surprised by Robert Saleh's wild sideline passion

49ers players aren't surprised by Robert Saleh's wild sideline passion

SANTA CLARA — It was impossible to turn on a sports television show or log onto social media without seeing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh fist pumping after the 49ers' 20-7 win Sunday over the Rams. 

It might be a new thing for fans to see, but players say he’s been this passionate as long as they’ve known him. 

“That’s probably the first time you guys have caught it, but he’s always losing his mind,” 49ers defensive back K’waun Williams told NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s normal. We’re used to it by now. He’s always had that great energy.” 

After Sunday’s game in Los Angeles, Saleh admitted that he gets so excited during huge defensive plays that he momentarily loses all sense of time.  

“I’m not going to lie, I black out during those moments,” Saleh said. “I get excited for the guys and their success. When they make big plays, I feel like I’m right there with them. When we fail, I’m right there with them too. So, we’re always together.”

The 49ers defense has dominated through five games. Saleh is now being mentioned as a possible future head coach candidate, when just months ago, football pundits said his job could be in jeopardy.

Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman isn’t surprised in the quick change of public opinion, he’s seen it before. 

“It’s football,” Sherman said. “That’s how quickly things can change. He was a good coach before, even when they were scapegoating him. You can’t scheme for everything. You can’t scheme for injuries and mental mistakes and that’s what was happening out there.” 

In 2018, the 49ers defense had a record-low takeaway percentage and earned reputation of giving up huge chunk plays to opponents. Sherman said that wasn’t because of a change in Saleh, it was just mental mistakes by individuals trying to do too much, trying to save the day. 

“That’s what I appreciate about this year is that all we are doing is what he is telling us to do,”  Sherman said. “We’re just playing the scheme that he calls. If last year everyone would have just played the scheme that he called, we would have been a top-eight defense in terms of yardage gained, red zone percentage and third downs because it’s Saleh. 

“It’s a good scheme and he knows how to call a game." 

[RELATED: Shanahan busts out jokes leading into 49ers vs. Washington]

Maybe it’s a little more maturity from what was a young roster over the past two seasons. Maybe it’s trust that’s grown between the players knowing that everyone will simply take care of their responsibilities instead of trying to be a hero. 

Regardless of what has shifted to change the trajectory of the 49ers defense, the players expect to see that same enthusiastic Saleh losing his mind on the sidelines. 

“That just shows the passion and the love he has for our guys when we’re out there executing which is great," Williams said. “He’s been the same. The scheme is the same. It’s just that everybody is on their job and we’re just clicking on all cylinders. I guess we’re just seeing the dividends payoff now.”