San Francisco 49ers tight end Delanie Walker returned from a fractured jaw to practice for the first time Wednesday, leaving a growing sense of optimism he could play in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
Walker was listed as participating in a limited portion of practice. He tweeted Sunday that he had worked out and proclaimed himself ready to play against the New York Giants.
When Walker's message was relayed to Jim Harbaugh during his Wednesday news conference, the 49ers' coach was hopeful but non-committal.
"That would be our hope, too" Harbaugh said before practice, according to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. "We'll have to wait and see. Today would be his first practice, and we'll see how he responds to today's work, to today's treatment. We'll know more tomorrow and more the next day, and ultimately, it will be in the doctor's hands."
Walker was a key component to the 49ers' offense before he was injured during the regular-season finale against the Seattle Seahawks. He had six receptions for 69 yards in the 49ers' 27-20 victory over the Giants in Week 10.
"We'd much prefer to have Delanie out there," Harbaugh said. "He is a great football player, first and foremost. He is smart, physical, intelligent, play-making ability. That's not to say that the next guy that steps up doesn't have some of those same qualities -- certainly Justin Peelle has filled that role very well."
Three 49ers -- wide receiver Ted Ginn (knee), safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) and center Jonathan Goodwin (calf) -- were held out of Wednesday's practice. All three suffered injuries during the divisional playoff win over the New Orleans Saints.