NASHVILLE, Tenn. --** Tight end Delanie Walker is excited about the Titans' chances in 2014.
In a recent appearance on NFL Network, Walker made a pitch to fans during a live vote as to why the Titans are primed for a run to the playoffs.
"We brought in a whole new coaching staff," stated Walker. "Just being around coach (Ken) Whisenhunt and his mindset and his philosophy he has for us, I feel like we are going to be a team people have to watch out for."
Walker covered several topics during his breakdown of the team, most notably his belief in quarterback Jake Locker as the franchise signal-caller.
"Jake is healthy, he's got the offense down pat and he's ready to explode this year," explained Walker, who continued his praise for the Titans QB when asked about him again later in the interview.
Titans Online looks back at the 2013 season of veteran tight end Delanie Walker. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
"He's our leader. He puts us in the right situations," Walker said. "If you look at last year when he got hurt, that's when we started losing games. When he is there running the offense he puts us in great situations. He is a playmaker. I'm ready for him to come out there and show everyone what he's got."
Tennessee enters the 2014 season with an arsenal of offensive weapons, including receivers Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, to help ease Locker's pressure during his contract season. Walker explained that everyone has to step up, including himself.
"I've got to get better," said Walker. "I'm looking to catch 80 balls this year."
When he signed as an unrestricted free agent from San Francisco a year ago, the Titans envisioned Walker as a big-play tight end, able to make big plays downfield and solidify the team's run game as a blocker. He did just that, catching a career-high 60 passes for 571 yards (third on team) and a career-high six touchdowns, becoming the first tight end in franchise history since Frank Wycheck to amass 60 receptions in a season.
Catching 80 passes would put Walker in elite company with the NFL's most productive tight ends. Only three tight ends (Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, and Jordan Cameron) reached the 80-catch milestone in 2013.
Titans fans wouldn't argue with the achievement either, having seen only 12 players - all wide receivers - catch 80 passes in franchise history. Wycheck holds the franchise mark for most receptions by a tight end with 70 (1998 and 2000).
Whisenhunt has a track record of leading successful passing attacks, most recently as offensive coordinator in San Diego last season. Upon Whisenhunt's arrival, Chargers QB Philip Rivers threw for 4,478 yards (third highest of career) and 32 touchdowns (second highest of career), while tying his career best with a 105.5 passer rating in 2013.
Walker explained that he has already created a positive rapport with his new coach.
"He's a player's coach," said Walker. "He takes care of us. When he tells us something he means it. Plus he used to be a tight end so what's better than that?"
The last hypothetical was said with a smile, but there might be something to that notion from Walker. Whisenhunt deserves some credit for Chargers tight end Antonio Gates catching 77 passes in 2013, a vast improvement from his 49, 64, and 50 catches in his previous three seasons.
Aspirations for a thriving passing attack will come to fruition with the team's ability to establish a solid ground game. A committee of running backs that includes 2014 second-round pick Bishop Sankey, veteran Shonn Greene and newly-acquired playmaker Dexter McCluster will look to fill the void left by the departure of Chris Johnson.
"If we can get that running game started and the play-action to work, that will help us down the field with big plays," Walker explained. "If we can pound the ball and get linebackers up on play-action, then we can get behind them and get the big plays we're looking for to put points on the board. I'm going to help out all I can in the run game because I know it will pay off in the long run."
As the interview wound down, Walker didn't completely sell fans that the Titans would make it to the postseason in 2014. The vote ended with 40 percent of fans siding with the tight end in the belief that the franchise will make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Walker's confidence didn't waver.
"I'm telling you from the heart," he said, "we're going to have a great year this year and I'm ready for it."