SANTA CLARA Jim Harbaugh on Monday said the 49ers will not place Delanie Walker on injured reserve, a decision that reflects both the tight end's healing ability and the 49ers' expectations for a long playoff run.
Walker broke his jaw in two places Dec. 24 after an opponent's knee caught him beneath his chin strap in Seattle, and his jaw was wired shut upon returning to the Bay Area.
A checkup last Wednesday, however, revealed that the fractures were healing well, and the 49ers determined that Walker could return to help the team at some point during the playoffs.
Walker started seven games in the regular season. He has three touchdown receptions, including the game-winning score in Week 6 against Detroit.
"He's not the average Joe walking around on the street," Harbaugh said. "He's young; he's got great powers of healing, apparently. So he's made tremendous progress."
Harbaugh said he wouldn't rule out Walker for Saturday's game against New Orleans, but his availability seems like a long shot considering the injury occurred only three weeks ago.
Walker last week said he has graduated from a liquid diet to soft foods and that he has been cleared for conditioning. He was at the team facility Monday to work out with teammates.
The 49ers had a free-agent tight end, Cody Slate, come in for a workout last week, and there was also talk of elevating practice squad tight end Konrad Reuland to the active roster if Walker was deemed unable to return.
Look for Justin Peelle to fill in as the No. 2 tight end against the Saints and for Moran Norris to enter the game as a second fullback on certain short-yardage plays.
Gore 'good to go' One of the ways the 49ers can combat Drew Brees and the Saints' prolific offense is to keep the football out of his hands.
However, their main weapon for accomplishing that, running back Frank Gore, has been a question mark in recent weeks.
After five consecutive 100-plus-yard rushing performances early in the season, Gore never surpassed the 100-yard plateau after Week 9. That's partly because Gore wasn't used as much late in the season, something Harbaugh indicated was injury-related but that Gore said was a coach's decision.
Harbaugh continued to resist giving a full explanation Monday.
"That's just our way of not telling you what it is, what's bothering him," he said of the mixed messages. "And that's enough information. We don't go into specifically what it is. That's out of respect for Frank and our team.
'I think he's good. Yeah, he's benefited from the rest, mentally, physically. He's good to go."
Replacement Bear The Harbaugh-Sean Payton connection goes back to the strike-shortened 1987 season when Harbaugh was Chicago's quarterback and Payton was part of the Bears' replacement team that played three games that season.
Harbaugh said he remembered watching Payton, a quarterback, on television but never met him.
"I don't remember how he played," Harbaugh said. "If I'm right, there were three games, and the Bears won two of them. And I remember that helping us that year because we were in the playoffs, and it helped our record, etc."
For the record, Payton completed 8 of 23 passes for 79 yards with an interception for a quarterback rating of 7.3.