Walker ready to bust out; Smith returns home

Tight end Delanie Walker has just four catches for 68 yards on the season, but he’s not complaining. “As long as Vernon (Davis) is ballin’, I’m happy,” Walker said during our podcast.




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Among the other things Walker said:

–The Titans like to blitz, so the 49ers might need to keep extra guys in to block it up. The two-tight end sets can give the 49ers a little advantage. When Walker‘s in the game, the opposition usually matches that with a nickel back, which should make it easier to run, he said.

Walker‘s main attribute is his versatility. Last week, he entered for a few plays late in the game when Davis had cramps due to a tight tape job, Davis said. Walker entered the game at that point as a single tight end.

–Most of the time Walker is in there, he said he gets covered by a cornerback or a safety. Walker was a wideout in college, and he said not many teams want to leave a linebacker on him one on one.

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The game Sunday against the Titans marks the return of Alex Smith to Candlestick Park for a regular-season game. The paying audience at Candlestick has always been supportive of Smith, and I’d expect him to get a warm reception.

But that was not the case on the first day of training camp when Smith was booed after his incomplete pass. At the time, coach Mike Singletary said it was “outstanding” preparation for Smith to develop thick skin.

AlexSmith.jpg“I think he’s smart enough to not look back at the past and understand that fan reaction is going to be typical around the league,” Singletary said Friday. “But I think it’s really important for him to just continue to keep the focus that I’ve seen him stay on. Every time that we’ve had a conversation, he’s just really excited about the opportunity to be a starting NFL quarterback again for this organization. Having that opportunity means a lot to him and it’s just a matter of continuing to go forward so that’s where I see him.”

I’m perplexed why so many people, including a few who comment on this blog, maintain that Alex was/is a bust – or, really, that his play has been a disappointment. The disappointment is he’s had a broken shoulder, and the 49ers haven’t had a chance to see him on the field for the past two years.

Here’s a quick recap of his career:

2005: Drafted No. 1 overall, made difficult adjustment from spread/shotgun offense at Utah into a pro-style West Coast system. He replaced Tim Rattay as the starter for the fifth game of the season. He simply was not ready, and he struggled mightily. Brandon Lloyd was team’s top wideout.

2006: Made switch from Mike McCarthy’s “West Coast” system to Norv Turner’s digit system. Became only QB in franchise history to take every snap. Smith improved from a one-TD, 11-interception rookie season to throw 16 TDs and 16 interceptions. At age 22, he helped engineer two road victories in final three weeks over Seattle and Denver, the latter knocking the Broncos out of the playoffs. With a marginally talented team, the 49ers finished 7-9.

2007: The new coordinator was Jim Hostler. The team started 2-1, but Smith sustained a grade-3 separated throwing shoulder on the third play of an important Week 4 game against Seattle. He tried to return to play in three games later in the season, but was clearly in pain and ineffective. Eventually opted for season-ending surgery.

2008: Enter Mike Martz as coordinator. But Smith’s shoulder never recovered from surgery. Two days before the first regular-season game, he felt extreme pain that turned out to be a small fracture of his right shoulder.

2009: Now, with Jimmy Raye as coordinator, Smith is getting his first chance in more than two years to show what he can do.

So when people talk about how Smith has underperformed, are they talking about his admittedly horrible rookie season? Or are they referring to his 2006 season as a 22-year-old player who was showing signs of developing into a pretty decent NFL quarterback?

They can’t be referring to 2007, when he played three games before getting injured, nor can they be referring to 2008, when he did not play at all.

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