By Sam McPherson

The Miami Dolphins will host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday with the intent of extending their current five-game winning streak. On the other side of the ball, the 49ers’ defense has been struggling all season, but the unit is looking to get stronger in Week 12 with the potential return of linebacker Aaron Lynch.

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Lynch, San Francisco’s 23-year-old rising star, tallied 38 tackles and 6.5 sacks last year in 14 games, but due to injury and suspension, Lynch has played in just three games this year. The 49ers would love to see him back in uniform on Sunday against the Dolphins.

San Francisco may be 1-9 right now with the worst record in the NFC, but they’re still a proud team and continue to play hard under first-year head coach Chip Kelly. After giving up 41 points to the New Orleans Saints in Week 9, the San Francisco defense has rebounded to hold the Arizona Cardinals and the New England Patriots to just 53 points combined in the last two games. While small, that’s an improvement the 49ers will build upon, considering the potent offenses those two teams possess. Perhaps a healthy Lynch can be the difference maker the S.F. organization expects him to be.

Lynch ‘Questionable’ For Sunday

After a high-ankle sprain sidelined him against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7, Lynch has missed three games. He has just one sack and five total tackles this season, a far cry from his career-high totals last season. Lynch served a four-game suspension to begin the season, and arguably, he just hasn’t been himself this season as a result. Lynch was able to participate partially in workouts this week on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in order to make it at least a possibility he might see the field against Miami.

The 49ers linebacking corps was the envy of every team in the league just a few seasons ago: NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis literally scared opponents. Bowman is now injured, Smith is long gone and still under league suspension, and Willis retired after the 2014 season. Lynch is the closest talent the team has left that can even compare to the unique talents those three LBs provided the team. San Francisco just can’t field the defense it wants to this season, thanks to injuries. Getting Lynch back on the field would help.

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Ward Also Dinged Up

After suffering a concussion against the Patriots last week, starting defensive back Jimmie Ward missed workouts entirely on Wednesday. However, he was able to practice on both Thursday and Friday, albeit in a limited fashion. Ward will have to pass through league protocols to get on the field against the Dolphins on Sunday, but the fact he was able to practice this week is a positive sign. The former first-round draft pick has started 14 games for the 49ers in the last two seasons combined.

Two other players are on the official injury report for San Francisco this week: Both defensive tackle Quinton Dial (knee/neck) and wide receiver Torrey Smith (shoulder) were limited in all workouts this week, so they are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Dial has been on the injury report for weeks with these nagging injuries, and he’s managed to play in all 10 games this year. However, Smith missed the first game of his NFL career last week with his injury, and with that extra time to heal, he should be ready on Sunday for Miami.

Dolphins Have Some Injury Woes, Too

Three key players are questionable for Miami on Sunday against the 49ers, including defensive stalwarts Jelani Jenkins and Mario Williams. The former started 27 games for the Dolphins in 2014-2015, but this season, he’s been slowed by a knee injury. He’s started just five games this year, and Jenkins also missed last week’s game in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Williams also missed last week’s game and has been slowed recently by ankle problems. After tallying 38 sacks for Buffalo from 2012-2014, the former No. 1 overall draft pick has just 1.5 sacks this year for Miami.

On the offensive side for the Dolphins, wide receiver Kenny Stills has a calf problem that might sideline him on Sunday. Stills leads Miami with a 17.7 yards-per-catch average and four receiving touchdowns this season. If he misses the game, the San Francisco defense might have an easier job against the Dolphins offense.

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Quinton Dial, defensive tackle (knee/neck)
Aaron Lynch, linebacker (ankle)
Torrey Smith, wide receiver (shoulder)
Jimmie Ward, safety (concussion)