Walker's full-circle NFL evolution points toward playmaker


Walker's full-circle NFL evolution points toward playmaker

SANTA CLARA -- First he was only a receiver. Then he was only a blocker. Now, 49ers tight end Delanie Walker is emerging as one of the league's most versatile big-bodied playmakers.

Walker entered the league with the 49ers in 2006 and saw little action, in part because of the knock on his ability to occupy his opponent.

"People said I couldn't block when I first came in," Walker said. "So I focused on blocking a lot and got good at it.

"Now they're starting to use me a little too much at it," he added with a laugh.

Sunday's win over the Jets was indication that the playbook could be re-opening for Walker, as he was featured in a number of different offensive looks.

Implementing a new wrinkle in the first quarter, backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick was used to run the read-option, and it was Walker who was flanked left awaiting his toss. Walker also hauled in two catches for 31 yards on a day when there weren't many passes to be caught.

"We always start doing something new to put us in situations to win the game," Walker said. "And that option is one of them. Kaepernick can run the option well. He's got great speed down the field.

"We tried it out and it worked out perfectly."

Well, almost perfectly. True, Kaepernick used Walker as a decoy and picked up the first down before he was brought down for a 17-yard gain, but even once they got upfield, Walker was looking for the lateral, and he was looking at the end zone.

"Yeah," Walker answered when asked if he thought he had the touchdown. "I got back on level with him. I was on the left side of him waiting on the pitch. Hopefully if we run it again, he'll know that I'll be on his side."

Walker indicated that he practiced staying on Kaepernick's outside hip and the team focused on maintaining position for a potential pitch even after crossing the line of scrimmage. But it's not too surprising Kaepernick kept it himself; he is the only D1 quarterback ever to have passed for over 10,000 yards and rushed for over 4,000.

Walker, 28, provides matchup problems all over the field, and the 49ers have tried to manufacture plays that allow him to exploit his size and athleticism. At six-feet, 242-pounds, Walker has receptions as well as rushing attempts in each of the past four seasons.

Protected by weapons all around him, and benefiting from a full season under the belt of offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Walker's chances of making an impact with the ball in his hands have never been better. And while he likes the new-look plays geared toward getting him the ball in space, Walker hasn't forgotten the blocking skills that entrenched him as a part of the 49ers offense.

"My plays will come when they come," the seven-year veteran said. "I like doing whatever I got to do to help the team out."

49ers add former first-round draft pick


49ers add former first-round draft pick

Former first-round draft pick Datone Jones has signed with the 49ers, he announced on social media late Monday night.

“I’m very thankful & honored to be joining the 49ers,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “Thankful to be back home in California.”

Jones, 27, a Compton native whom the Green Bay Packers selected with the No. 26 overall pick in 2013, started just seven of the 59 games in which he appeared for the Packers over four seasons.

Jones (6 foot 5, 288 pounds) recorded 73 tackles and just nine sacks while seeing action at defensive end and outside linebacker.

The Packers declined to pick up the fifth-year option for Jones, making him a free agent this year. He signed a one-year contract with Minnesota in March and remained with the Vikings until he was released off injured reserve in September after sustaining a shoulder injury.

He signed with the Detroit Lions on Oct. 10, but was released just eight days later after not appearing in any games.

Jones started the final 28 games of his college career at UCLA and moved up draft boards with a 12.5-sack season as a senior in 2012.

Mailbag: Are 49ers trying to win or develop players?


Mailbag: Are 49ers trying to win or develop players?

After five consecutive close losses and some reason for optimism, it all came crashing down for the 49ers on Sunday.

Rookie Trent Taylor fumbled a punt just one minute into the game. Ninety seconds later, the Dallas Cowboys scored.

And it was over.

The Cowboys steamrolled the 49ers, 40-10, providing a slap across the face to anyone who believed this rebuild of the franchise was trending consistently upward without any complications.

The team appeared to be moving along harmoniously. But on Sunday, there was an incident in which Jaquiski Tartt, Ahkello Witherspoon and Ray-Ray Armstrong were seen jawing at each other. Things got heated. The optics in a home blowout loss were not good.

There are plenty of questions, and here are some of the questions from The Day After that were submitted on our Facebook page:

What is the philosophy? Are we trying to win or develop players? Cause it seems you can't do both? (Frank Vega)
The 49ers are definitely trying to develop players. They are also trying to evaluate players. They are looking to the future, and they are not deploying a win-at-all-cost approach this season. They do not want to win an extra game or two this season at the expense of possibly making the team worse for the future.

That is why the 49ers, almost invariably, went with younger players at any position in which there was competition . . . Eli Harold over Ahmad Brooks; Trent Taylor over Jeremy Kerley; Raheem Mostert over Tim Hightower; etc.

It’s why the 49ers made the decision two weeks ago to part ways with NaVorro Bowman, who had expressed dissatisfaction over his reduced role. Bowman was still the 49ers’ best linebacker at the time. But he would not have been on the team next year, so the decision was made to release Bowman now and go with the other less-accomplished players. (The Raiders, by the way, say 'Thank you.')

Rookie C.J. Beathard is now the starting quarterback. Cole Hikutini has moved into the No. 2 role at tight end behind fellow rookie George Kittle. Ahkello Witherspoon is being weaved into the action at cornerback, splitting time with Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson.

The 49ers did not want to create a mirage. They did not want to win any games this season that would be the result of a veteran rent-a-player approach. In that respect, the 49ers have succeeded. The 49ers will be picking near the top of every round in the 2018 draft.

The risk, of course, is that the young players get beaten down so badly that they lose their confidence and their edge.

What do you make of Eric Reid’s move to LB? Is his time with Niners nearing the end? (Peter Chan)
The 49ers no longer use a “nickel” defense. They go straight from their base defense to six defensive backs whenever the opposition puts more than two wide receivers on the field. It’s not a true linebacker position Reid is playing. It’s considered more of a “big nickel," designed to give the 49ers more speed on third downs to cover and run to the ball.

Reid is no longer a starter. What it shows is that the 49ers are sold on Jaquiski Tartt being a long-term answer for the 49ers secondary. The 49ers view Tartt and Jimmie Ward as the starters for 2018. All things being equal, Reid will have a chance to go somewhere else next season and be a starter.

The 49ers are not committed to re-signing him on a deal that extends beyond this season.

Is it a coincidence that the two worst teams in the NFL have the most cap space? (Gary Staebler)
That is no coincidence at all. It is the very reason the Cleveland Browns and 49ers are the only two winless teams in the NFL.

The Browns have $61.6 million in cap space. The 49ers are currently $61 million under the cap. Next year, with carryovers of unused space, the 49ers and Browns are projected to both have more than $117 million in cap room, according to Overthecap.com.

Bad teams do not draft well.

Teams that do not draft well, do not sign their draft picks to lucrative second contracts.

Therefore, teams that do not draft well cannot spend a large portion of their cap space to retain their own players because they have no good players worth retaining.