SANTA CLARA — Reuben Foster didn’t practice with the 49ers Wednesday afternoon. He practiced next to them on a side field, under the supervision of the team’s head strength and conditioning trainer, Ray Wright.
Foster shuffled left and right over raised pads that looked like speed bumps, shuffled back and forth, back and forth. He did the typical warmup routine for the 49ers’ inside linebackers, and did it alone.
Wednesday was Foster’s first practice this offseason in front of the media. He joined the 49ers for OTAs last Thursday after a judge dismissed three felony charges against him. The 49ers did not make him available to speak on Wednesday.
“He is in great shape,” said 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh after practice. “He could have went today. He could have went the first day he was allowed back. But, just like all the other guys, they’ve had a due process, a Phase 1, Phase 2, going through all the different phases of the offseason. We’re just giving him a chance to get back into it. Don’t rush him. There’s no need. Hopefully, we can get him practicing soon.”
In Foster’s case, Saleh’s use of the term “due process” was certainly appropriate.
Foster, 24, was arrested in Alabama on Jan. 13 and charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Then, on Feb. 11, he was arrested in Santa Clara and charged with three felonies: domestic violence, attempting to prevent a witness from reporting a crime and possession of an illegal assault rifle.
But, on May 23, a judge dropped the domestic violence charges and reduced the weapons charge to a misdemeanor. And on May 25, the Tuscaloosa District Attorney’s office dismissed the misdemeanor marijuana charge. That entire process, the 49ers hope, will put Foster’s legal problems to rest.
“We’re all excited,” Saleh said. “The whole organization matches Reuben’s enthusiasm, and not just because of Reuben the player. Reuben the person, for people who don’t know him and who don’t have the privilege to know him (and) really don’t understand what a great human being he is.”
Johnny Holland, the 49ers’ outside linebackers coach and run-game specialist, described Foster’s personality: “It’s infectious. He has a glow about him. He is very likeable. He tries to do things right, but somehow he gets caught sometimes doing the wrong thing.
“This is not college football, not high school football. Your identity is known. People know what you do, and you’re not going to get away with stuff. He went through a learning phase as a first-year pro. This is his second year now, so he’s got to be able to step up and make good decisions.”
And he’s got to stay healthy. Foster’s biggest issues as a rookie were injuries, not arrests.
“He was hurt from the beginning with the shoulder injury, had to sit out,” Holland said. “And the first game of the season, he had a high-ankle sprain and missed six games. For the 10 games he played in, I thought he was outstanding. He was one of the top-four linebackers in the NFL as a rookie learning a new system. His ceiling is very high. He is going to be better this year.”
Foster missed OTAs and minicamp last season as he recovered from rotator-cuff surgery on his right shoulder. Then he missed six games with a high-ankle sprain. And then he missed portions of another six games as he routinely injured himself while making tackles.