Walker is big cheese in game of cat-and-mouse

In the game of chess that takes place between offensive and defensive coordinators, Jimmy Raye will make the first move. Then, the 49ers will eagerly see how the Seahawks respond.


That action and reaction might shape tomorrow’s game.


Delanie.jpgYou see, 49ers tight end Delanie Walker should be a big factor in the game tomorrow. And it might not even be so obvious. After all, Walker‘s statistics this season are far from spectacular. He has just nine receptions for 133 yards. But each week his role seems to be increasing in the 49ers’ evolving passing game.


“He can be a challenge personnel-wise on how you treat him,” 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. “To come in as the second tight end, you can treat him as a receiver. As a tight end, we can do a lot of blocking stuff with him as well, so I think that he’s kind of a personnel match-up problem for a lot of teams as to how they view him.”


When Walker is on the field, it forces the defense to make a decision. Either . . .


–Stick with base personnel of a front-seven with four defensive backs, which should create mismatches for the 49ers as a linebacker will likely be asked to cover Walker on pass routes.


Or . . .


–Sub in a fifth defensive back, which should enable the 49ers to run the ball better as it takes away a bigger linebacker and matches Walker as a run-blocker against a smaller defensive back.


“That’s a dilemma,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said, “and you hope you make the right decision at the right time based on the information you have going into the game.”


“I’ve always had a lot of respect for him, and he’s developed into a tenacious player,” Mora added “The combination of him and Vernon (Davis) and (Josh) Morgan and Michael (Crabtree), and (Frank) Gore in the backfield, that’s a lot of weapons. They’ve done a nice job of making you defend the whole field. Walker is a fine player. He might get overshadowed a little bit, but we have a lot of respect for him.”


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I asked Walker about this game of cat-and-mouse:


Q: How long does it take you to look over to the other sideline to see who’s coming in on defense?

Walker: As soon as I come in they usually change their defense. They’re looking at our sideline to see the matchup and they see our personnel, and then they make their change right away. Sometimes I want to look so I can be ahead of the defense to see if they’re bringing in nickel or keeping their base front. Sometimes when I come in, you see them throw their two hands up, sometimes they even call “12 personnel,” and you can hear them yelling it – “12 coming in! 12 personnel!”


(Note: The first number refers to running backs and the second number is tight ends. Therefore, “12” personnel consists of one back and two tight ends.)


Q: This last game when Jacksonville stayed in base, did you start licking your chops?

Walker: I licked my chops; Vernon licked his chops. We know they have linebackers sticking both of us and it’s a mismatch because we’re faster than most linebackers. We got the fastest linebacker, that’s Patrick (Willis), so when they keep their base defense on the field, we love it.


Q: But when you see a nickel back come in . . .

Walker: We love that, too. Because then we can either have an alert to a run. If they do have that nickel, that’s even better for us in the running game because it means they only have two linebackers instead of three. So the line can get to them easier, and I can block a cornerback with no problem.


Q: During the week as you prepared for Seattle, how much time was spent talking about what they’re going to do?

Walker: Basically, we talk about it a lot because that tells us what formation we’re going to be in. Because if they follow me in the regular personnel, and I go out wide and they follow me with a linebacker, that’s the matchup we’re looking for. But if I come in and they bring in a corner or a safety down, we’ll see what kind of matchup that’s going to be because they have to single (cover) Vernon one-on-one with a safety or DB or a linebacker. There are a lot of things we look at and try to study before we go into that week’s game, so we’re definitely wondering what personnel they’re going to use.


Q: You had a season-high four catches for 52 yards against Jacksonville. Was that because they stayed in base?

Walker: Yeah, because we ran a lot of routes to get me open, and when we saw they kept in their regular personnel, there were a lot of mismatches.


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49ERS: CB Nate Clements (shoulder) is out; DL Kentwan Balmer (shoulder) and T Joe Staley (knee) are doubtful; LB Takeo Spikes (hamstring), WR Isaac Bruce (ankle) and CB Marcus Hudson (back) are questionable; LB Ahmad Brooks (thumb), RB Michael Robinson (shoulder), WR Arnaz Battle (ankle), WR Brandon Jones (thumb), S Michael Lewis (quadriceps), T Adam Snyder (shoulder) and DL Ray McDonald (shoulder) are probable.


SEAHAWKS: LB D.D. Lewis (knee) and DE Cory Redding (concussion) are doubtful; RB Justin Forsett (quadricep) and DE Lawrence Jackson (groin) are questionable; RB Julius Jones (chest) and C Chris Spencer (thumb) are probable.


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Some folks misinterpreted the Scot McCloughan-Jeff Maehl anecdote I wrote about yesterday. It seems my light-hearted headline caused some confusion.


McCloughan was not there to scout Paradise vs. Las Lomas. He was there to enjoy an evening with his son at a high-school game close to where he lived at the time. The point of the story is that a scout sees the game differently than most — even when he’s not “scouting.” He knew nothing about either team, yet he was able to immediately assess there was one player on the field who had superior skills.


That’s it. The 49ers do not spend their resources – let alone send their general manager – to scout high school games.


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