Niners' Walker hopes to return for NFC title game

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - San Francisco tight end Delanie Walker has returned to practice for the first time since breaking his left jaw in two places late in the regular season and hopes to be healthy enough to play in the NFC championship game.

Walker had the wires removed on Monday and took part in practice on a limited basis with no contact on Wednesday. He was out there again during the open media portion on Thursday.

"I didn't do too much, so I won't say I was rusty," Walker said before Thursday's practice. "I feel like I was good. Everybody said I looked faster and that I looked like I was over-hyper. Because you get back on the field, you try to do everything full speed."

Coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday that Walker's status is up to team doctors and Walker said he will push to get on the field on Sunday against the New York Giants.

"If they leave it up to me, of course I'm going to play," Walker said. "I want to help my team out, and this is a big game, and I feel like if I'm out there maybe I can help out with the offense."

Walker broke his jaw in two places when he took a knee to the face from Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill in the first quarter Dec. 24.

Walker is a key part of San Francisco's offense as the 49ers used at least two tight ends on the field more than any other team in the regular season.

The 49ers ran 43 percent of their plays this season with two or more tight ends, compared to a league average of 26 percent, according to STATS LLC.

Walker was tied for fourth on the team in the regular season with 19 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Justin Peelle, the third string tight end, had just one catch in the regular season.

"Delanie is a very key cog in what we do," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "He's talented physically. He's talented with what he can handle in terms of game planning. The load we put on him is very unique to what most players get in the NFL, or anywhere for that matter. He brings speed, playmaking ability, the ability to block in a variety of ways - in space, in the box. He's just a dynamic tight end."

Walker had his most productive game of the season against the Giants in November, when he caught six passes for 69 yards in a 27-20 victory. Roman said he is putting together separate game plans for if Walker is ready to play or if he has to sit out.

With Walker sidelined last week, Vernon Davis set an NFL postseason record for tight ends with 180 yards receiving in a 36-32 win over the New Orleans Saints.

He caught seven passes and scored two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 9 seconds remaining.

Walker is testing out a new helmet this week with a bigger facemask and wider area around the jaw to see if he can play with that on Sunday.

Walker said doctors told him that left jaw is now as strong as the right side and there is little chance of re-breaking it in the same places.

"But it's possible it can happen," he said. "This is football, and they warned me of that. But I feel confident in myself in my doctors feel confident in me to let me go out there with a helmet and do a little bit, so I'm confident that I can do whatever I can to be out there."


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