Ever since rookie linebacker Reuben Foster returned to the field in late October, the 49ers defense has been better.
“It’s like having 12 people on the field,” said defensive lineman Ronald Blair. “He’s all over the place.”
Added head coach Kyle Shanahan: “The more speed and explosive talent you can get out there, the more you can contain guys who have speed and explosive talent. Reuben has got that as much as anyone on our team, so of course that helps.”
Over three November games (the 49ers had a bye week), Foster was outstanding. He was in on 14 tackles in a loss to the Cardinals, had 10 in the team’s first win of 2017, over the Giants, and was in on six last time out against the Seahawks.
In five games, Foster has 38 tackles (including three stuffed runs) and a pass defensed, and has impressed the Niners with the way he roams sideline to sideline to make plays. Even while missing six games, he is just 18 tackles behind rookie league leaders Jarrad Davis, a Lions linebacker, and Marcus Maye, a Jets safety.
Thursday, Foster was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month. He is just the fifth 49ers defender ever to be selected an NFL Rookie of the Month, along with Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Chris Borland and Andre Carter.
Foster, in fact, is ranked among the top five inside linebackers in the NFL by the analytic website Pro Football Focus, which noted recently that Foster could be in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors – despite the missed time – with a strong performance over the final games of the season.
When the 49ers take on the Bears this Sunday in Chicago, the focus will mostly be on San Francisco’s new starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo. But the cornerstone of the team’s defense for the future is Foster. If the 49ers are to win their second game, how he plays will be a key.
Certainly, he’ll be fired up. General manager John Lynch said in a radio interview recently that Foster’s love for football – his joy in playing the game – was one reason Lynch and Shanahan were so excited to move up to select the Alabama star in the first round this past spring. Lynch said he asks college prospects in pre-draft interviews what they love about football, and Foster’s response made Lynch and Co. like him even more.
“I’ll never forget Reuben Foster when we sat across (from him),” Lynch said. “He couldn’t really communicate, but his posture changed. He stood up and he got a big smile on his face, and everybody in the room had goosebumps.”
Foster and his teammates will try to create more excitement this Sunday against the 3-8 Bears. Kickoff in Chicago is set for 10 a.m. in the Bay Area.