The team’s move tight end had knee surgery between minicamp and that start of training camp, and was on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list until he passed his physical Monday.
While he was out, the offense hasn’t been complete and it hasn’t been what it is going to be. (I wrote, when we learned he’d be out, of how the Titans view him as irreplaceable in terms of having another guy who can do what he will.)
The Titans view Walker as an excellent combination blocker-pass receiver who can line up in the backfield, on the line of scrimmage, in the slot or wide.
And versatility like that will create for mismatches where he can outmuscle a defensive back or outrun a linebacker.
“We have a little more flexibility in our 12 personnel, our two-tight end, two-receivers sets, to do a little more with him,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “…It could be getting their nickel on the field and now you’re in two-back running the football. It could be getting man coverage with him lined up out wide getting coverage from a linebacker or a safety where he has the ability and the speed to win.”
What’s Walker’s preferred mismatch?
“I think I prefer a DB, because then if we do motion or shift into a run play, it makes my job easier,” Walker said, laughing. “And if I go out, I still can make the catch by using my body.”
Tennessee’s run game has been one of the few bright spots in preseason games with the first-team offense, and Walker should make it even better.
“We’ll have to see, they might bring in an extra DB just because they know the ability I have to run up the field,” Walker said.
Chris Johnson might prefer the chance to outrun a linebacker, but he should be able to outrun a DB too, and would take less of a hit from one when caught. Shonn Greene likely prefers to lower his shoulder into an extra DB. And if offensive linemen get to the second level, the one who gets to take on a corner or safety will be thrilled.
“I’ve seen some tape from when (Walker) was at San Francisco, him getting out there on the outside plays and cutting those guys down,” Johnson said. “He’s a pretty good blocker.”
I think the Titans would be fine not playing Walker at all in their final two preseason games to ensure he stays healthy and to maximize their chances of surprising the Steelers on opening day with the way they use him.
Walker said he’s not sure the Titans are ready to play him Saturday against Atlanta. But a dozen snaps in vanilla alignments won’t give much away.
Walker expects the Steelers will do extensive homework on him and on how the Titans use a guy like him.
“I think they’ll watch some 49er film, knowing that we played against Pittsburgh when I was at the Niners and knowing what the Titans did with Frank Wycheck, they might just try to guess what can happen,” he said. “But it will be a surprise, because I don’t think any team can expect or know what we’re going to do.
“I know. I have a sense. I know what I came here to do, they told me clearly what my job will be. It’s very, very exciting and I think it’s why they’re not really pursing me to play in the preseason, because no team’s going to know what to expect and Pittsburgh’s got it coming first.”