Under the radar: Delanie Walker
Walker has one reception for 18 yards through two preseason games, and you can be pretty sure that's little indication of the impact he'll have once coach Jim Harbaugh finally pulls the curtains on his West Coast offensive system once the regular season begins Sept. 11 against Seattle.
Harbaugh has been almost going out of his way during exhibition games to keep it simple on offense, not letting opponents get much of a glimpse of his true intentions regarding the way he'll come at other teams when games begin counting in the standings.
To be sure, Harbaugh will be coming at them with Walker as part of a two-tight end attack featuring Pro Bowler Vernon Davis. This will be different than the two-tight end attack the 49ers have used in recent seasons within different offensive systems.
Walker will be on the field this year in multiple situations that promise to give him more opportunities to make plays than Walker has been allowed in his first five seasons with the 49ers.
Walker also could have the advantage of sneaking up on people this year, since opponents will have their hands full devising ways to stop Davis, Frank Gore, Braylon Edwards, Michael Crabtree and the other offensive weapons in the San Francisco attack.
"That two-set tight end can't be stopped," Walker said this week. "You're going to see a lot of two-set tight ends. G-Ro (offensive coordinator Greg Roman) and Jim, I think they love me and Vernon – literally. It's crazy. Just the speed and the talent we both have, why not have us both on the field making plays?"
Why not, indeed?
And since using two-tight end formations and making the position a regular part of the passing game became a staple of the offense Harbaugh and Roman took to national prominence at Stanford, you can be sure the two offensive strategists throughout this summer have been devising ways to use the skills of Davis and Walker in tandem as a regular part of the San Francisco attack.
While Walker could be flying under the radar as the season approaches, it's not exactly like he's some kind of secret weapon, because previous San Francisco offensive coordinators have for years been expressing their desire to get him more involved in the attack.
Walker actually has 16 starts over the past two seasons as the 49ers came out in two-tight end formations to begin games. But he became a rotational player after that, and not always one that was used to the best of his abilities.
But Walker got an immediate impression that will change in 2011 the first time he had an opportunity to sit down and chat with Harbaugh.
"When he first came in and I talked to him the first day, he was like, ‘I hope you're ready, because we're going to use you,'" Walker said. "We watched film last year and I shook my head, couldn't believe it, why I wasn't on the field as much, why I only ran flat routes, why was I a decoy only. I used to think the same thing, why am I doing this, why am I not going deep, if you're all saying I'm a receiving tight end, why am I only running flats?"
Walker always has had the look of a wide receiver after playing that position in college at Central Missouri. He bulked up to move to tight end with the 49ers, even though he has been used primarily as a receiver and H-back-type player at the position. This year, Walker has slimmed down a bit in anticipation that he'll be more of a factor on down-field routes.
Walker set career highs with 29 receptions for 331 yards last season, so he is ready to take the next step as a playmaker.
"I just think (previous coaches) didn't know how to use me at the time," Walker said. "We have some great coaches in here now, they see that I'm a great player and I can make plays on the field. I get reverses, I can catch passes and break tackles in games, my YAC (yardage after the catch) says it for me.
"Jim Harbaugh, he believes in me. So I'm going to be on the field more. I'm going to make plays and I'm going to have opportunities to score touchdowns. I learned from these guys that they trust me, and if they trust me, then I have to trust them and buy into their philosophy, and that's what I'm doing."
And that philosophy figures to have Walker flying under the radar no more this season.
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