Thirteen proved to be unlucky for Delanie Walker.
The Tennessee Titans long-time veteran tight end suffered the first major injury of his career in the opening game of his 13th season in the NFL, when he dislocated his ankle late in a loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Now seven weeks removed from surgery, Walker is finally able to walk again with the aid of a protective boot, and finds himself not only rehabbing to return as soon as he can, but also being part mentor and part cheerleader for his struggling Titans teammates.
“This is my first time ever (to be on injured reserve),” Walker said. “I’ve never been on IR in my 13 years in the NFL. It’s tough. I’ve really never missed more than 10 games. I tell guys all the time, I’ve never felt this way before. I’ve never had this much free time during football season.”
Walker, who signed a two-year extension in preseason that has him under contract with the Titans through 2020, has been a main cog in the passing game since his arrival here in 2013 as a free agent pickup from San Francisco. But his absence has created more of a void than almost anyone could have imagined in terms of offensive production.
Walker caught four passes in the season opener before going down. The Titans other three tight ends – Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser – have combined for just 14 total receptions in seven games thus far.
“Obviously losing myself and what I did with the team makes it noticeable to everyone out there. I try to tell them don’t listen to what’s going on and what people are saying,” Walker said of his Titans teammates. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to play your game. They all know how to play it. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t. Just be confident in yourself and go out there and make the plays that you can.”
Walker, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, had had at least 60 receptions in each season he has been with the Titans. His loss has not only affected the tight ends, but the wide receives have failed to step up as well in the offense. That has led to inconsistency from quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has just three TD passes this season and five interceptions, and has contributed to the Tennessee offense being ranked nearly the bottom of the NFL in nearly all meaningful offensive categories.
“It’s very hard. I consider myself as one of the offensive weapons that really helps this team makes plays and gets the offense going,” he said. “So it’s hard to see the three-and-outs and not putting points on the board. I feel like should be out there. I feel down because I feel like I’m letting them down by not being out there.”
As for his own situation, Walker said he hopes to begin running, but that still could be a ways off. He has only been walking in the boot now for four days.
“Who knows when I’ll be able to run again? That’s all I’m looking forward to is just being able to take this boot off and start running,” Walker said. “It’s pretty sore and different. With the boot on it feels normal, but when I don’t have the boot on, I can’t flex my foot.”
But as hard as the rehab is, not being able to play and help the team is just as tough.
“I miss scoring touchdowns, man. I just miss catching the ball and seeing the crowd go crazy. Honestly, that’s the truth. I just miss seeing the excitement and hearing the roar of the crowd. That’s why I play the game. When the crowd’s excited, I’m excited,” Walker said.