Posted: 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Ever since the mere thought of Delanie Walker hitting free agency, fans, writers, and analysts have been talking about the potential impact that his absence would have on the 49ers' offense. Walker is a guy who's become an excellent blocker, already had good speed and ran decent routes (having been a wide receiver in college), and thus was used in a multitude of ways in Greg Roman's playbook. How would the 49ers deal with the loss of such an integral part of their offense?
Surely they'd have to find someone who fit the same mold as Walker: fast, smart, able to line up all over the field, being a lead-blocker between the tackles while also being capable of streaking deep down the sideline for a long pass. But where do you find a guy who is such a Swiss Army Knife, or can you, really?
The answer is that you probably can't. Walker is a rare combination of body, skills, and smarts at the tight end position. He was short compared to many tight ends, stocky in build, which is probably why he was so good in the H-back role (which incorporates aspects of fullback as well as tight end, slot receiver, etc.). He was also agile, not a big plodding body like many at his position. The truth is, you rarely find guys who can block and factor into the passing game while also moving all over the formation.
So what can the 49ers do if they can't replace Walker's skill set? Will the offense suffer? Will they have to teach someone else to fill the role, someone who likely doesn't have all of the traits the former 49er displayed or perhaps hasn't been asked to do so many different things thus-far, someone who may struggle in his stead?
I don't think so.
If there's one thing that Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have done since arriving in Santa Clara, it's adapt. They tailored an offense around Frank Gore, Alex Smith and Vernon Davis that featured power running, timely play-action, and otherwise mostly short, safe throws, yet took the aforementioned Smith to new heights with the team reaching the 2011 NFC Championship game as well as winning most of Smith's games as a starter in 2012.
Then, with new weapons like Mario Manningham, Randy Moss (lightweight serious), LaMichael James and Colin Kaepernick, they again reinvented themselves by throwing the ball down-field more, utilizing the read-option and Pistol formation and taking this once-again new set of plays to the Super Bowl, within a single play of being crowned Champs.
No, I don't think the 49ers are scrambling to find a carbon-copy of Delanie Walker. They may very well end up with a completely different type of tight end playing second-fiddle to Vernon Davis. Perhaps a large, blocking TE with just a slight ability to slip out into passing lanes, but by no means a burner. Maybe it will be a type-Y TE who plays mostly in the slot and specializes in blowing past linebackers and safeties in the passing game, but offers little help in the power run game.
Whatever the case may be, I think we know that the offense will evolve around whomever is on the field, and whomever that is, the team will succeed by scheming to the strengths of their guys, not trying to duplicate what they had in Delanie Walker.
So fear not, 49ers fans. Don't watch the draft, biting your nails, downing drinks and screaming out popular tight-ends' names at your TV screen. Don't fear the unknown or tie yourself to what we've seen thus-far. For 2013 may well feature things we couldn't even imagine or thought possible...but rest-assured that points will be scored, games will be won, and we won't be tweeting this video to Delanie Walker.