Niners have versatility at TE
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz hopes to keep defenses honest by using Davis and Walker at same time
By MATT MAIOCCO
PRESS DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER
Published: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 8:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 11:01 p.m.
SANTA CLARA — In nine NFL seasons as offensive coordinator and head coach, Mike Martz never featured a tight end as a significant part of his passing attack.
KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat QB Alex Smith drops back to pass to Vernon Davis, foreground, against the Raiders at Monster Park in San Francisco, Saturday August 18, 2007. The Niners are toying with a 2-tight end set this season.
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That is likely to change this season in his first year with the 49ers.
Not only do the 49ers employ tight end Vernon Davis, an imposing vertical threat, but Martz is tinkering with ways to get backup Delanie Walker better involved in the passing game, too.
“I consider myself an H-back,” Walker said. “I’ve been studying fullback, tight end, slot wide receiver. I can do all those things. I can line up in the backfield, the wing or the slot. I’m fired up because I’m in the rotation a lot more. I expect a lot out of myself this season.”
Walker caught 21 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown last season after being held to two catches as a rookie. The 49ers rewarded him with a three-year, $6 million contract extension through 2012 in the offseason.
“Just because our offense wasn’t productive last year doesn’t mean that we can’t see who a good player is,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. “He’s a good character guy — the kind of guy that you want to sign early and keep him around.”
Said Walker, “When they wanted to sign me for three more years, I figured my role might be changing.”
Although Walker started 10 games last season he saw action in fewer than 40 percent of the team’s offensive plays. He said most of the times he came into the game, the 49ers were in a pass situation. In training camp he is working hard on his blocking.
Opponents often played with five or six defensive backs when Davis and Walker were together on the field. The 49ers see this as an opportunity to run the ball effectively against smaller defensive personnel.
“The one thing that it’s premised on is that they’re both substantial blockers,” Martz said. “If they’re not, then they’ll be treated like receivers and you have more nickel and dime (five and six defensive backs) in there. We’ve got to make sure that those two guys are, first and foremost, blockers.”
Much of the talk since Martz was hired in January was about his plan for integrating a tight end such as Davis into his attacking offense.
It’s pretty clear that Martz does not consider Davis as a prototypical tight end.
“What we’ll do with him is try to take advantage of his speed more than what they’ve done in the past,” Martz said. “We’ll try to get him down the field, more or less like a wide receiver — move him out, move him around. At first it was so different for him, but he’s really adapted well to it. He’s really kind of thrived with it.”
Davis is already known as an effective blocker in the run game. That is the reason the 49ers have never even toyed with moving him to wide receiver full time — though in the passing game he can line up at any spot on the field.
With Davis and Walker as part of a two-tight end formation, the 49ers can maintain a balanced approach.
“We can run the ball and pass the ball,” Davis said. “That way, the defense won’t know what’s going on.”
You can reach Staff Writer Matt Maiocco at 521-5492 or firstname.lastname@example.org