This should not come as a huge surprise, but it has just about become all but certain that tight end Delanie Walker will not play this Saturday against the New Orleans Saints. Walker broke his jaw in Week 16 against the Seahawks and was on a liquid diet for a week and a half after that. There is some optimism that Walker could be cleared to return to practice this coming Monday if the 49ers are able to win on Saturday.
As Coach Harbaugh mentioned on Monday, Walker is showing some awesome powers of healing. Walker indicated his injury normally would mean having his jaw wired shut for four to six weeks but he was cleared to eat and talk in a week and a half. He said he lost minimal weight during his liquid diet, so getting back to playing shape shouldn't be too much of an issue.
The most pertinent issue is how the 49ers offense will operate this Saturday. They were fairly explosive against the St. Louis Rams two weeks ago, but the Saints are just slightly different than the Rams (Week 8 upset aside). The 49ers will roll with Vernon Davis and Justin Peelle as their two tight ends. They do not have a traditional third tight end available, so we could see even more of Isaac Sopoaga and Moran Norris in the heavier packages.
The 49ers use two tight ends in their base offense in part because Davis and Walker are dual receiving/blocking threats. It provides the team with the ability to disguise runs and passes. With Peelle in as the second tight end, it will be interesting to see if they go with nearly as many two tight end sets.