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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Chat wrap: Willis to return vs. Seahawks?

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Two memorable plays from the San Francisco 49ers' Patrick Willis came at the Seattle Seahawks' expense. One was an 86-yard interception return for a touchdown during an overtime victory at the former Qwest Field in 2008. Another was the rib-breaking hit he put on then-Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in 2009.

The 49ers could certainly use Willis against Seattle in Week 16, when Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks will try to snap two San Francisco streaks: 36 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher and 15 games without allowing a rushing touchdown.

Willis was back on the practice field Thursday for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury against the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 4. That information could be helpful in answering the question Dave from Pueblo, Colo., asked during the most recent NFC West chat, although I would expect the 49ers to proceed with caution regarding Willis.
Dave from Pueblo wanted to know the chances of Lynch rushing for 100 yards and/or scoring a touchdown on the ground. LeSean McCoy didn't get much going against the 49ers, Dave noted.

Mike Sando: I'd bet against the 100 yards and give Lynch an outside shot at a rushing touchdown. The 49ers' defensive front seven should -- repeat, should -- handle the Seahawks' offensive line. I do think the environment at CenturyLink Field, coupled with the Seahawks' strength on defense, could make this a tough game for the 49ers. And I think we've all seen that Lynch can break tackles. Lynch is also one of the very best in the NFL at scoring from near the goal line. It's no embarrassment if the 49ers allow a single rushing touchdown one of these weeks.

Rodney from Atlanta sees the St. Louis Rams finishing 2-14 and picking second overall in the draft. He asks whether the team should draft receiver Justin Blackmon, draft an offensive lineman or trade for additional picks.

Mike Sando: The trading-down scenario always appeals, and perhaps it's more feasible given the new salary structure atop the draft. This team has many needs, but quarterback is not currently one of them. That would give the Rams great flexibility to trade down. Short of that, I think they need people to make big plays: at the skill positions and on defense. They've taken offensive linemen early. The next coach and GM, should there be a change, needs to find those guys in the middle rounds.

Al from Wausau, Wis., asks whether John Skelton could challenge Kevin Kolb as the Arizona Cardinals' long-term starter, or whether Skelton projects as nothing more than a backup.

Mike Sando: Skelton looks like a good backup now, with a chance to develop into more. We're not close to the point, in my view, where the organization commits to him as its starter longer term. But Skelton needs to be part of the mix. And if that means saying he has a chance to compete for the job, fine.

Dugan from Spokane, Wash., asks how close the Seahawks are to fielding an "elite" defense and which position needs improvement the most.

Mike Sando: Close. The team needs additional pass-rush help. We see that in the diminished sack numbers for Raheem Brock. There is no No. 2 pass-rusher on this team. Chris Clemons needs help. They have a good foundation against the run, great size at corner and tremendous prospects at safety. If I were crafting a dream offseason scenario for the Seahawks, it might include: extending Red Bryant's contract, adding a veteran pass-rusher in free agency, hitting on another linebacker in the draft (as the case was with K.J. Wright) and getting Walter Thurmond healthy again. This assumes the first-round pick needs to be set aside for QB. If that is not the case, seek pass-rush help in the draft as well.

With the 49ers playing this past Monday night and all four division teams playing Saturday, the week seems to be flying by. That's a good thing. Very much looking forward to Saturday.