SANTA CLARA — For 49ers rookie linebacker Reuben Foster, the question seems to be how much he’ll play, not if he’ll play this Sunday against the Washington Redskins.
“I’m sure he’s ready to go,” defensive tackle DeForest Buckner told The Press Democrat Thursday in the locker room. “He’s looking pretty good. I know he’s dying to get out there. He’ll definitely be a key piece coming back. He’s a playmaker.”
Ray-Ray Armstrong, the linebacker who replaced Foster when the rookie got injured, echoed Buckner’s projection.
“Looks ready to go,” Armstrong said.
Foster practiced for the first time Wednesday since he suffered a high-ankle sprain during the season opener against the Carolina Panthers. In that game, he was on the field for just 11 snaps, but still managed to knock down a pass and make three tackles — one behind the line of scrimmage. The 49ers defense gave up just 19 yards and only one first down when Foster was in the game.
With 3:47 left in the first quarter, Foster caught his left foot in the grass, twisted his lower leg and left the field on a cart. He hasn’t played since. But on Wednesday and Thursday this week, he ran and cut and changed directions at full speed during the early portion of practice the media attends.
“I hope the doctors officially clear me,” Foster said. “I don’t know, but hopefully they see a child in me. Like, one that wants a candy. I want some candy. Let me have some candy.”
The 49ers listed Foster as a limited participant during practice the past two days, meaning he took some reps during 11-on-11 team drills but not every rep.
“He got his normal — ah, I shouldn’t say normal load, but he took a good amount of reps,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said before Thursday’s practice.
“I felt like I could have gone more,” Foster said. “Just to get some more reps and get my mind back on football and not just treatment and trying to feel better.”
The 49ers were impressed with how focused and prepared Foster was during his first practice back from injury.
“He was sharp,” Saleh said. “Lined up, got people lined up — it was really cool to see because he hasn’t actually taken a live rep since he got hurt. And to see the way he commanded the huddle and the way he got people lined up, it was really very encouraging.”
When Foster returns, he will play alongside NaVorro Bowman. Armstrong will return to the bench.
“(Foster and Bowman) had a good month where they were working together,” Saleh said. “Defense is so much about communication and getting comfortable with the guy you’re working next to.
“And so, they got very comfortable with each other, and they were working at a very high level. So it was very unfortunate that Reuben went down. But at the same time, they’ve been in the meeting rooms, so whatever communication they did have they’ve been able to make it grow a little bit during meetings.”
The 49ers will assess Foster’s conditioning the rest of this week. While he seems fresh and healthy, he probably isn’t in “football shape” — he hasn’t given or taken a hit in more than a month.