Team reporter Joe Fann of 49ers.com provides a closer look at Seattle's Week 17 opponent:
1. With Carlos Hyde out Sunday, will the 49ers go with a combo of Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris and Mike Davis? Or do you think one particular player will handle the bulk of the carries?
Fann: I'd expect Draughn to start, but Chip Kelly could use a hot-hand approach towards his gameplan. Draughn began the season as the team's No.2 running back behind Hyde, but later lost the job to Harris. It appears that Draughn has earned the role back as he assumed most of the snaps (and posted a game-high six receptions) following Hyde's injury in Week 16. So to make a simple answer even longer, my money is on Draughn, but that could change given the flow of the game.
2. Colin Kaepernick has ended the regular season pretty strong. What do you think has been the difference for him down the stretch? Does his recovery from offseason surgeries play a large part?
Fann:That is certainly a factor, as is his growing comfort in Kelly's offense. The comeback Kaepernick led last week against the Los Angeles Rams was especially impressive given his weapons at the skill positions. Kaepernick helped erase a 14-point fourth quarter deficit without Hyde, Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton. I think the entire offense, Kaepernick included, is striving to be more consistent throughout games. Even so, I think you've seen a more decisive version of the 49ers quarterback, and that's led to his 15:4 touchdown to interception ratio.
*3. Rookie defensive lineman DeForest Bucker has put together a productive first season. Taylor Price recently made the case for him to win DROY. They obviously play different positions, but can he be that defensive centerpiece for SF like Patrick Willis was for many years? *
Fann:When you draft a player with the seventh overall pick, there's certainly an expectation that he'll be a cornerstone of your team for years to come. Buckner has been everything San Francisco could have hoped for as a rookie. And he's impressed even without Arik Armstead there to take some of the pressure off of him. Buckner's improvement in the run game has been just as notable as his six sacks. His 11 tackles against the New York Jets in Week 14 was evidence of that growth. So will he be Patrick Willis, best player at his position good? That's impossible to say. But all signs are pointing in a positive direction thus far.
4. What plagued the 49ers most this regular season?
Fann:No one will use it as an excuse, but 18 players on Injured Reserve hasn't helped. Beyond that, San Francisco has the 32nd-ranked passing game and the 32nd-ranked run defense.
*5. What area do the 49ers need to improve upon the most this offseason? *
Fann:The two stats mentioned in the previous response illustrate two areas for improvement. Adding to the team's depth at inside linebacker will also be key. The 49ers were never able to overcome the losses of NaVorro Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong.