49ers Mailbag: What Walker's absence means to offense

January 10, 2012, 3:35 pm
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The 49ers will have their first official practice of the week on Tuesday, so we'll get a glimpse at the team's injury situation.Obviously, don't look for tight end Delanie Walker to return any time soon from a jaw that was fractured in two places on Dec. 24. Walker did not sound on Friday like a player who thought he'd be able to play."It's emotional," Walker said in his first comments since the injury. "First time in the playoffs and I get hurt, and not being able to play. Kind of hurts. But our team is doing well, and I'm recovering the way I want to recover, so who knows?"Defensive lineman Ray McDonald is nursing a right hamstring strain. He said it's not as bad as the left hamstrings strain that kept him out for a game in November. McDonald said he expects to play on Saturday against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC divisional round at Candlestick Park.The 49ers return to full strength at wide receiver, as Ted Ginn (ankle) and Kyle Williams (concussion) have been cleared to play after missing time late in the season. Every day this week, we'll be answering some questions from the 49ers Mailbag. Let's see what we have today . . . How does Walker's injury impact what the Niners want to do on offense? Will Gore have a harder time running the football in his absence? (Jeremy Sawvel)
Walker greatly improved his blocking this season. In fact, he became such a good blocker that he became a forgotten man in the passing attack.Walker's value was his versatility. He was still a threat as a receiver, though he went six games without a reception before sustaining his injury. Backup tight end Justin Peelle is considered more a blocker, so nothing has to change with the 49ers' run game. But it does mean that the Saints can play the run more when Peelle is on the field. The 49ers could counteract that with more passes in that personnel grouping.It should be noted that the 49ers have decided to keep Walker on the 53-man roster. Coach Jim Harbaugh said they're leaving the spot only for Walker on the chance that he might be able to return to action at some point in the postseason.Also, there's no reason for the team to fill the roster spot because nobody they add to the 53-man roster would be among the 46 active players on game days, anyway.Does the 49ers offense feel more prepared for the blitz happy defense that the Saints like to run because of their prior preseason meeting? (Andrew Schmidt)
The 49ers do not feel more prepared because the Saints did not unveil any great secrets in the exhibition opener. However, the 49ers feel infinitely better-equipped to handle what New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams throws their way because the offensive line has been working together now for 24 weeks -- as opposed to two weeks together when the met for that first exhibition game. Also, the 49ers' pass protection should have the advantage of being able to communicate their pre-snap adjustments without the complication of dealing with excessive crowd noise.Which LB will be charged with covering Jimmy Graham? (Joel Ellis)
Graham is the best pass-catching tight end in the NFC. The 49ers will mix up their coverages, but look for Patrick Willis to be a busy man. He is generally the player called upon to cover top-flight tight ends. But there will also be instances when safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson are responsible, too. Graham was the Saints' leading receiver during the season with 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns.