ALAMEDA –- The Raiders have struggled covering tight ends the last few years, a storyline head coach Jack Del Rio doesn’t love that just won’t die.
The issue reared an ugly head in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta, when Falcons tight ends caught 10 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.
That was Jacob Tamme, Austin Hooper and Levin Toilolo, not exactly an intimidating crew.
Tennesse’s Delanie Walker, by contrast, strikes fear. The 32-year old former 49er had a career year in 2015, with 94 catches for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns.
How the Raiders resolve issues covering tight ends could make him a major factor in Sunday’s game.
“He’s a good player, and one of these guys who can be a mismatch with a secondary,” Del Rio said before Wednesday’s practice. “He’s big enough to cause problems for safeties, and fast enough to cause problems for linebackers. It’s hard to put a cornerback on him all the time. He’s a good player, and I have a lot of respect for what he’s been able to do.”
Walker embarks on his 11th season in the midst of a career upswing. He spent seven seasons in Santa Clara, generally working behind top tight end Vernon Davis. Walker emerged from that shadow in 2013, when he signed a six-year, $13.375 million contract with Tennessee.
He has thrived with the Titans and gives young quarterback Marcus Mariota great piece of mind.
“To have someone like that, whether it’s as a safety blanket or someone that can really get open and cause matchup problems makes our job as quarterbacks a whole lot easier,” Mariota said “We’re thankful to have him.”
Just because the Raiders have struggled against tight ends won’t change the Tennessee game plan. Walker’s always a feature player.
“We’re always trying to get Delanie the ball,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “There’s no big secret about it. Defenses know that’s the case. If they take him away, in some instances he’s been eliminated because of the coverage, then we have guys now that we can get the ball in their hands and make a difference.”
The Raiders have options against Walker, whether it’s strong safeties Keith McGill and Karl Joseph or linebacker Malcolm Smith or tall cornerbacks Sean Smith and David Amerson. The Raiders aren’t giving away coverage strategy, but will certainly account for Walker at all times.
“We’re going to give him the attention he deserves,” Del Rio said. “Beyond that, it’s about each guy doing his job.”