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New Faces Boost 49ers Playoff Run


Currently, there are 52 men on the San Francisco 49ers and one more expected to be signed this week to complete the roster.

It's not known how much can be expected of that potential 53rd player at this point of the season, but several new additions to the team have helped the 49ers clinch a playoff berth last week in New England.

Enter second-round pick LaMichael James and undrafted linebacker Michael Wilhoite – both have contributed mightily in the team's recent two-game win-streak.

James accounted for 164 yards in the win over the Patriots; Wilhoite recorded one special team tackle, giving him five in the three games he's played this season.

The contributions of both players have been appreciated by teammates. For example, Fullback Bruce Miller has thoroughly enjoyed what James has brought to the offense, sparking the unit in the final month of the regular season.

"It's just different, a different look," Miller said of James. "The explosiveness that he brings is just exciting for us. It's another weapon for us to use."

It's also something the Seattle Seahawks have not faced this season.

"The way he stretches the field and can make plays, it definitely gives us another wrinkle for us," Miller added. "It's fun to watch."

Not so much for Seattle, who enters Sunday night's Week 16 NFC West matchup with the league's No. 10 rush defense, a unit that allows 106.3 yards per game.

When the teams met back in Week 7, Frank Gore ran for 131 yards and caught five check-down passes for 51 yards. Gore had Kendall Hunter spelling him back then, but will have the boost of James this time around, now that Hunter has been placed on Injured Reserve.

James is coming off a big performance against New England, one that saw him earn a Week 15 Rookie of the Week nomination.

"I think this game is going to help me out tremendously with my confidence and playing in hostile environments," James said after the big road win on the East Coast. "It was hostile. We faced a lot of adversity, but everybody on the team just kept fighting. We believe in ourselves, we know what we can do and no one really flinched."

That same mentality will be needed in Seattle.

The Seahawks are coming off two historic performances, winning their last two outings by 91 points, the largest two-game combined margin of victory since the 1941 Bears won two games by a combined 95 points.

Miller, however, is ready to face the cold, rainy forecast for Sunday night – and Seattle's front-seven.

Last year's late-season win in Seattle only helps the team prepare for this season's encounter with playoff implications for both clubs.

"It was just a chaotic environment to play in," Miller recalled of his first game in Seattle. "We have to be on point offensively with communication. It makes it more difficult with the crowd noise, so we need a great week of preparation to go in there and win."

With the offense being in its second season under coordinator Greg Roman, Miller believes communication is much better amongst the offensive unit this time around.

"Second year in the offense," Miller explained, "you know your responsibilities. You have an idea of what we want to do as an offense. Preparation is big so we can take that noise factor out and we can still get our job done."

Another aide on the 49ers side this week is special teams assistant Tracy Smith, a hard-working coach who spent last season on Seattle's staff.

"He's helped me a lot," Wilhoite said of the assistant coach. "We'll see what he can help us with this week with Seattle."

The 49ers linebacker pointed to the coach's early morning meetings where he brings the younger players up to speed with coordinator Brad Seely's weekly gameplans.

"It's good that he's here to take the time with us and give us that little bit more of the picture and an advantage on other teams," Wilhoite added.

The advantage was taken last week in New England with a first-half fake punt.

Wilhoite knew it would be successful as soon as he saw the Patriots line up. All he had to do was make his block and watch safety Dashon Goldson take a direct snap and run free along the left side of the field for a big, third-down conversion.

In Wilhoite's mind, the fake will only serve the 49ers well in the coming weeks. It's just one more thing for opponents to discuss in their preparation.

"You want other teams focusing on every facet of the game," the 49ers linebacker said. "If you give them a couple of different looks where they have to play soft, or back a bit more, all of a sudden we can be aggressive."

Execution will still reign supreme on what figures to be another bad weather game for San Francisco.

"It's a chess-match, from 1-on-1 battles to 11-on-11," Wilhoite said. "It's all who plays the best football and executes the best."

The 49ers, however, feel prepared for the elements this late in the season.

Miller has a Duck Commander Hat from his favorite show, "Duck Dynasty."

He plans on wearing it to keep warm this weekend, and hopefully it'll help him quite Seattle's recent stretch of success.

"They're hot right now, but our defense is up to the test, it should be a good game to watch."


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