Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker is a long way removed from the sixth-round draft pick that spent seven years as a backup for the San Francisco 49ers.
While some may consider Walker a late bloomer – he just received a two-year, $17 million extension on Friday and soon turns 34 - the veteran tight end said Saturday he always knew he had the sort of play in him that he has consistently delivered since joining the Titans in 2013.
“That's all I imagined, and that's why I stepped away from the 49ers, knowing I had something good there. They loved me there, and they gave me an opportunity to play,” Walker said. “But I didn't see myself being that guy that I wanted to be, knowing that I can be a dominant starter in this league, and the Titans gave me the opportunity.”
Walker has been a model of consistency since coming to Tennessee, last year catching 74 passes for 807 yards and three touchdowns in his 12th NFL season.
“I hear a lot of guys say I'm taking stuff, and what I'm taking and they need some. But all jokes aside, they praise me and want to know what I'm doing and being able to come out here year after year and play the way I play. The message that I give them is just take care of your body and know that at the end of the day, it is a game,” Walker said.
The veteran tight end said that when he was a younger player, he watched some of the veterans he saw who had been the league a long time and emulated their work habits and how they took care of their bodies.
“I got to play with guys like Larry Allen and Bryant Young, and I watched what they did. I became a sponge. I saw what they did. I saw they were going to be Hall of Famers, and they were Pro Bowlers,” Walker said. “I watched them closely, and I saw that they took care of their bodies very well, and that's why they played for 13 or 14 years. I just copied them.”
Walker did have a bit of a scare just before camp opened, but it was not on the football field. On July 24, his Lamborghini was hit by an 18-wheeler in downtown Nashville.
“I was actually under the tractor, so it was pretty dangerous. It happened on the 24th at 3rd and Union,” Walker said. “I've been taking hits for 13 years. Luckily, I got out from underneath that tractor trailer. Someone stopped him, thank God. If that person is listening or sees this interview, thank you for stopping the guy, because he was still going. He didn't see me at all.”
Walker's car was totaled, but he was fortunate, and judging from the way he has continued to perform, is revved up for another season.
“He's gotten better every year. He's developed. When you go back and you look at the history of where he came from, he's a developed player. This is a guy that wasn't some first-round draft pick and has been a starter since day one. He's worked and he's gotten better every year, and he continues to do that. He works and takes care of his body, and he loves football,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said.