SANTA CLARA — Reuben Foster has been waiting to get back on the field ever since a sprained ankle derailed his NFL debut after a promising start.
Foster made a big impact in his first 11 plays for the San Francisco 49ers in their season opener against Carolina on Sept. 10 with three tackles and one pass defensed before a sprained ankle halted his rookie campaign and sent him to the sideline.
“It’s so hard because you want to be out there doing something,” Foster said Thursday. “The sport you love so bad and you’re just anxious to get out there.”
Foster has been back at practice this week, working on a limited basis at his inside linebacker spot next to NaVorro Bowman as the 49ers (0-5) prepare for Sunday’s game at Washington, where they will be looking for their first win of the season.
Foster said he felt good after his first practice Wednesday and is hopeful the doctors will clear him to play this week.
“Hopefully, they see a child in me, like, ‘Want a candy?’” he said. “I want some candy. Let me have some candy.”
Getting a healthy Foster back would be sweet for the 49ers, who have lost their first five games under coach Kyle Shanahan and are seeking any kind of boost they can get to turn things around.
San Francisco traded back into the first round to take Foster 31st overall earlier this year and have teamed him with Bowman ever since Malcolm Smith went down with a season-ending injury early in training camp.
Foster has been working on staying sharp even during his injury and the Niners don’t expect him to need much time to get right back up to speed.
“He’s been out there every day, walk-through, and all that stuff,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Thursday. “He’s still getting all those mental reps. Yesterday he was sharp. Lined up. Got people lined up. It was really cool to see because he hasn’t actually taken a live rep since whenever he got hurt. To see the way he commanded the huddle and the way he got people lined up. It was very encouraging.”
Washington is expecting Foster to play and expecting him to be a force when he’s on the field.
Coach Jay Gruden said Foster was probably his second-favorite defensive player he scouted in the draft, behind only Washington’s first-round pick and Foster’s college teammate at Alabama, Jonathan Allen.
“I think he’s excellent,” Gruden said. “He can run, he can hit, he can cover. He can do everything you want a linebacker to do. So I think he’s a force.”
With Foster sidelined, Ray-Ray Armstrong has gotten most of the playing time next to Bowman. Armstrong struggled with penalties and missed assignments early in the season but has come up with two key interceptions the past two weeks.
Saleh said he wants to still get Armstrong some playing time even with Foster back in the mix.
“He’s done everything he can to minimize the one or two plays that have killed him in the past,” he said. “He’s gotten very comfortable communicating and really, really has a great understanding of what he needs to do down in and down out. It is a challenge to try to find a way to get all those guys on the football field at the same time. As we start getting healthier we’re in a good situation with the amount of talent we do have to work with.”
NOTES: FB Kyle Juszczyk (back) did not practice. ... S Eric Reid (knee) is also limited but could return this week to give the Niners a needed boost in the secondary. ... TE George Kittle (chest), DT Earl Mitchell (knee), S Jimmie Ward (shoulder), LB Dekoda Watson (groin), CB Ahkello Witherspoon (concussion) and S Adrian Colbert (hamstring) were also limited.