ORLANDO, Fla. —Delanie Walker is an old pro at this whole Pro Bowl thing now.
The Titans tight end is here at the all-star game for the second year in a row after making his Pro Bowl debut in Hawaii. Prior to that, he turned down a chance to go as an alternate.
There was a time in Walker's career when he watched others receive honors, and he wondered if his time would ever come. He attended his first Pro Bowl in his 10th NFL season.
Titans players join other NFL stars in preparation for the 2017 AFC/NFC Pro Bowl in Orlando, Fla. (Photos: Amber Harding, AP)
"I think having to wait like I did, it makes me appreciate all this more,'' Walker said after practice on Friday. "I appreciate being here with all these guys who play the game so well. I think I always felt like if I had the opportunity, I could play in the Pro Bowl myself. But everything that happened earlier in my career made me hungrier, and made me work harder. And now I want to keep proving myself.
"I am not slowing down. I've still got it. I still feel like I am 22 years old."
Walker, who's 32, is coming off a season when he caught 60 passes for 800 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2016, Walker caught more touchdowns than he did during his Pro Bowl season of 2015, when he hauled in 94 passes for 1,088 yards and six scores. With an improved running game, and more weapons around him, Walker's overall numbers didn't reach those from the previous year, but he hasn't lost a step.
Fellow Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce from the Chiefs can vouch for that.
"I have been watching Delanie since he was in San Fran, and to see how he moves, how big he is, how strong he is, it is impressive, man,'' Kelce said. "I remember watching a play where they were playing Denver and they threw a little screen to him -- we were putting that play in on our game vs the Broncos. We were basically stealing one of the Titans plays, OK? And Delanie catches it and he has eight people on him as soon as he catches it and he just starts stiff-arming everybody, breaking tackles and takes it 20 yards. And I am looking at everyone like, "So this is what you are expecting me to do on this play?"
Walker's 22-year-old self didn't get many chances to make those kind of plays. He spent his 20s paying his dues. A sixth-round pick by the 49ers in 2006, Walker didn't catch more than 29 passes in a season in his first seven years in the league, all in San Francisco. He played a lot on special teams, and after switching from receiver to tight end, he got limited opportunities while playing in an offense with perennial Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, who is at the Pro Bowl, was with Walker in San Francisco. He's thrilled for his success in Tennessee, and said it might've come sooner if he'd gotten more chances.
"No question there has been growth,'' Smith said of Walker. "Would the success he's having now happened if he got more chances then? Without a doubt, if he was given more sooner, it would happened sooner. But Delanie was such a great teammate, you never heard him complain. Obviously Vernon was kind of the featured guy but Delanie never complained and just did what he was asked to do. I think that says a lot about him and I think that is why he is doing what he is doing, because of that mentality.
"I'm not surprised at all by what he's done, going to Tennessee and playing at a high level."
Walker, who signed with the Titans prior to the 2013 season, has been a go-to guy in Tennessee. Walker set franchise records among tight ends in 2015, and he's continued to break franchise records at his position.
Last offseason, the Titans rewarded him with a contract extension.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey called Walker a perfectionist, and a tone-setter.
"It is never good enough for Delanie," Mularkey said. "He wants to be the best, and he works at it. A great example is when he gets the extension, and his mission is to prove, "I'm worth it." Not every guy is like that in this league. A lot of guys will take it, and think "I've made it." And there's a lot of guys who get comfortable. He is not comfortable, he wants to get better every day."
Walker is enjoying his second Pro Bowl trip. He said the week is easier, because he knows what to expect.
He brought 27 family members with him to enjoy it, from mother, his son, his brother, his aunts and more.
"My mom is having a blast,'' Walker said. "She went to Universal Studious yesterday and said it's probably one of the best times she's ever had. It is good to have my family here with me, enjoying this experience with me. I know I don't have too much longer."
Walker quickly corrected himself when questioned further.
Eleven years into his NFL career, not too much longer means "at least four more years" for Walker.
He has no plans to hang it up any time soon, he said, even though he expects folks to doubt him.
But that's OK. He'll use that as motivation to get to the Pro Bowl again.
"I think the road I took, going Division 2 (at Central Missouri) and getting drafted in the sixth round, playing receiver and getting moved to tight end," Walker said. "I proved I could play tight end as good as anybody in the league after being switched from receiver. But I am still hungry. Every day I am out there I want to do better than the year before.
"A lot of people doubt me, saying "His level of play is going to go down, he is old." But I went out there this year and still played at the highest level and now I am in back-to-back Pro Bowls. I am still moving up that ladder."
Five Titans players compete in the 2017 AFC/NFC Pro Bowl in Orlando, Fla. (Photos: AP, Amber Harding)