NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After spending all seven years of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers, tight end Delanie Walker knew change was inevitable.
But he admits joining a new team to take over the lead role at the position has felt weird.
“It’s like you’re getting a divorce,” Walker said with a chuckle. “And now you get a new wife. You gotta learn all over again. You are on your best behavior.”
Walker joining the Titans via free agency was a match not made in heaven, but rather by circumstance. After playing in the shadow of Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, Walker wanted to be the lead man at tight end. Having lost former tight end Jared Cook to the St. Louis Rams through free agency, the Titans needed a lead dance partner at the position.
Thus, the marriage between Walker and the Titans when he signed March 14.
“When I was with the Niners, I played 70 percent of the time,” said Walker, who had 21 catches for a career-high 244 yards and three touchdowns last season. “Being here and having the ability to play 100 percent of the time, I think I fit into that role.”
Which is being one of several offensive weapons at the disposal of third-year quarterback Jake Locker. That’s fine with Walker, who has been used primarily as a blocker but has seen his production gradually increase, especially last season when his average of 16.4 yards per catch led all NFL tight ends. He had three catches for 48 yards in the Super Bowl.
“I think I am going to be an impact in the passing game,” Walker said of his new role. “In previous years, I was more of a run blocker. They are giving me the opportunity to make plays and be a playmaker. … I have the speed to do that. Just with the plays we are putting in, I feel like the type of opportunities that I am going to have to be that big play guy (are here).”
Having lost the athletic and rangy Cook, who showed flashes when healthy but was also inconsistent in route running, the Titans viewed Walker in free agency as their primary target at tight end.
“I expect him to catch more passes than he did last year in San Francisco,” Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “We are really excited about him. We are excited about him as a player and a person. The guy is a leader. He started at the bottom, and he’s been to the Super Bowl. He’s ready to be the breakout tight end and be the guy.”
In seven seasons, Walker has 123 receptions for 1,465 yards and eight touchdowns.
His career-high for catches in a season is 29 in 2010. He wants to blow past that number this season with the Titans.
“My goal is to get 70 catches and go from there,” the 6-foot-2, 248-pound product of Central Missouri State said. “How many touchdowns I get, we’ll see. But I’m just worried about getting the catches and helping the team move the ball.”
The Titans have also added running back Shonn Greene to complement lead back Chris Johnson; rebuilt the interior of the offensive line by signing free agent Andy Levitre and drafting Chance Warmack, both guards; and drafted wide receiver Justin Hunter to fill out a deep receiving corps that also includes Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington.
Walker is also a big piece of the offensive puzzle put together by general manager Ruston Webster and third-year head coach Mike Munchak. And that means developing a rapport with Locker, the third-year quarterback who is expected to seize the offensive reigns this season after missing five games in 2012 with a shoulder injury.
“He’s a real leader,” Walker said of Locker. “Usually when I get here, he’s the first person here, and I usually am the first person to get to practice. He’s here. He’s watching film. And then he’s letting us know, ‘We are going to pass. We are going to catch. We are going to do this. I saw that route you ran yesterday, can you run it like that.’
“You need quarterbacks like that because if he is confident enough to come and tell you this is how he wants you to run a route, then I expect that he is looking for me to make plays.”
So is Loggains, who said the Titans will target Walker in a variety of ways.
If there is a bugaboo about Walker, it has been inconsistency at catching passes. Both Walker and Loggains noted that it is a point of emphasis during off-season drills that began last week and continue this week at the team’s facility.
“It’s not the hands as much as the concentration,” Loggains said. “A lot of times when he’s been catching balls, it’s because he’s got great speed. He’s trying to run before he catches the ball. It’s just working (the ball) all the way. (Tight ends coach) George Henshaw has done a great job with him just concentrating on that aspect of his game.”
Like fellow newcomer Bernard Pollard, the Titans’ new strong safety that helped the Baltimore Ravens beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl, Walker also brings that same postseason experience to the Titans.
“Once young guys see the older guys, how they work, and how they have been there and tell how to get there, you gotta work hard,” Walker said. “They tend to buy into that philosophy. I think the Titans understand that. That’s why they brought in the guys they brought in.”