Editor's note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Titans matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m., at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
49ers LB Patrick Willis vs. Titans TE Delanie Walker
Tale of the tape
Willis (52): 6 foot 1, 240 pounds, seventh season, Mississippi
Walker (82): 6 foot, 248 pounds, eighth season, Central Missouri
They went up against each other at different times during their six years together as 49ers teammates. And they sat next to each other on the team’s chartered flights to road games.
Linebacker Patrick Willis hopes to again stick close to Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker on Sunday when they meet for the first time as opposing players.
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Willis, a six-time Pro Bowl selection in six NFL seasons, typically draws the most responsibility in covering the opposition’s tight end. That will likely be the case as Walker is now on the other team after signing a four-year, $17.5 million contract in the offseason.
“I really don’t know what they’re going to do,” Walker said on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “I know he (Willis) is coming off an injury. We’ll see. I never sure what teams are going to do when I go against them.
“Sometimes they put a DB on me, and sometimes they try to play me with a linebacker. If I make a few plays, they might switch it up. But he’s a great linebacker and I’m pretty sure they’ll try to match us up.”
Willis returned to action last week against the Arizona Cardinals after missing two games with a groin strain. Although he might not have been near 100 percent, Willis provided the 49ers with a big defensive play when he stripped wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald of the ball after a third-quarter completion to force a turnover and thwart a potential go-ahead touchdown drive.
“I’d be lying if I said I felt A-plus out there,” Willis said. “Something was still bothering me a little bit, but as the days go, it gets a little better. The bye week is going to help. Until then, I’m going to keep pushing forward and keep getting it better.”
Willis added, “I can’t lie and say I can get to fifth gear right now, but I think my first, second, third and, maybe, fourth can be enough to do well.”
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio did not disclose any secrets to the 49ers’ plan, but he noted there will certainly be times throughout the game when Willis will be responsible for covering his old pal.
”Patrick has covered some good tight ends in his past and Delanie’s a very good tight end, as well all know,” Fangio said. “We’ll see how Pat does on Sunday against him.”
Walker is on pace to post the best statistical season of his career. He has 20 receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns. In 2010, Walker caught a career-high 29 passes with the 49ers. In 2012, he had 344 yards receiving with three touchdowns.