Bouncing Back from a Pro Bowl Season

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** The only thing that appears to be in decline about Titans tight end Delanie Walker is his memory.

In so many words, Walker said earlier this week he was disappointed by his performance last season, a revelation that no doubt came as a surprise to his teammates and Titans fans.

How quickly could Walker have forgotten that he put together a third straight Pro Bowl season – producing his fifth consecutive year of at least 60 catches, his fourth straight of at least 800 receiving yards – at the tender age of 33?

In retrospect, however, that penchant for self-criticism may be one of the traits that's helped Walker remain among the NFL's best tight ends heading into his 12th year.

Instead of reflecting on what he has accomplished during previous seasons, Walker looks back on what he hasn't, which is a sure way of providing motivation for the year ahead.

"That's what good players do, that's what great players do," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "They're always trying to find ways to get better. You don't always look back at your good plays -- you just remember your bad ones."

In Walker's case, he's looking past his 74 catches last year (third among tight ends) and nine receptions of 20-plus yards (tied for sixth among tight ends) in order to focus on one other number: touchdown catches.

Walker came up with three last season, fewer than he'd caught in any of his previous four seasons with the Titans.

"I didn't get in the end zone a lot," Walker said. "I feel like me getting in the end zone will help this team out, and I didn't do that last year. That's something I've got to focus on this year, is making sure when I touch the ball, I've got to get in the end zone."

Walker was hardly the only issue on the Titans' sluggish offense last year, and his three touchdown catches were actually second on the team, one behind Rishard Matthews. But Walker wants to be more of a force in the red zone, where he was held to three catches on 11 targets last season.

"To be better than what I was last year, that's always one of my goals, and to help this team win," Walker said. "That's something I always focus on. I'm my own worst critic. I feel like last year wasn't my best year, so I want to be better than what I was last year."

Walker is ripping through this offseason with typical intensity, acting as if he's an undrafted free agent looking to make the team as opposed to the tight end with the most catches in the NFL (356) over the past five seasons.

The California native doesn't drink alcohol, doesn't eat pork and – in his own words – busts his butt in the weight room every day. In an OTA session earlier this month, it was Walker who hit the deck trying to come up with a reception, even though players had been advised to stay on their feet to avoid injury.

"I love his professionalism, love his work ethic, love his attitude, love his production," Vrabel said. "We're lucky to have him. He's a great example to a lot of young players."

Just how long Walker, who'll turn 34 in August, can keep up his pace is anyone's guess.

Over the last decade, only four tight ends age 34 or older – Tony Gonzalez, Ben Watson, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates – have caught 60 or more passes in a season. Only three tight ends 34 or older – Gonzalez, Watson and Gates – have topped 800 receiving yards in a season during that 10-year stretch.

But there appears to be no reason Walker can't hit his trademark numbers again, based on a more experienced Marcus Mariota throwing to him, a new offensive scheme and Walker's ability to stay on the field. He's missed just four games in five seasons with the Titans, playing in all 16 contests last year.

"I feel great," Walker said. "At the end of the day, until I feel like someone can take my spot, I'm going to keep playing. I feel like I can play for four years.

"As long as I still feel that way and I'm moving as fast as I am on the field, and making plays, I'm not going to stop."

When he eventually steps aside, the hope is that Walker will at last be able to reflect on his many accomplishments, not his few shortcomings.

Until then, the perceived flaws will fuel his fire.

-- Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.

TitansOnline.com looks back at TE Delanie Walker's 2017 Pro Bowl season. (AP Photos)

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