SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers, in essence, added two linebackers to the team Wednesday.
Reuben Foster returned to the practice field after serving a two-game suspension, and veteran Malcolm Smith was cleared to undergo a full practice for the first time since he sustained a hamstring injury in the 49ers’ Aug. 9 preseason opener.
Rookie middle linebacker Fred Warner played well in the first two weeks without Foster or Smith alongside him. It appears to be unlikely that Warner will lose his starting role.
And Foster almost assuredly will step back into the 49ers' lineup at weakside linebacker after serving his punishment for violations of the NFL’s policies on substances of abuse and personal conduct. The team released veteran guard Matt Tobin to make room on the 53-man roster for Foster.
Smith was the 49ers’ biggest defensive acquisition on the first day of free agency in 2017. But he missed all of last season with a torn pectoral sustained early in training camp. The 49ers still view him as a valuable asset because of his fit for the defensive system.
So, is it possible Warner, Foster and Smith all could see action together?
“We don’t have the plan, yet,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday. “We’ve got to see how they are, how they play. The plan is to do whatever we think gives us the best chance to win. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make a better guess at that decision these three days of practice.”
Mark Nzeocha took over as the 49ers’ starting strongside linebacker in the team’s base defense after a trade sent Eli Harold to the Detroit Lions.
“If I knew what way we were going to go this week, I wouldn’t tell you guys, but I do mean I don’t know, yet,” Shanahan said. “Rueben hasn’t been here in two weeks. Today is going to be Malcolm’s first day of full practice. So we want to see how all of those guys do, and it’ll be a tough decision at the end of the week, but a tough decision I’m going to be happy to have to make.”
Wednesday’s Practice Report
Did not practice
G Joshua Garnett (toe)
T Joe Staley (not injury related -- vet day)
S Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder)
WR Marquise Goodwin (quadricep)
G Mike Person (foot)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon (ankle)
Did not practice
S Eric Berry (heel)
DE Chris Jones (groin)
LB Ben Niemann (hamstring)
G Cameron Erving (knee)
CB Kendall Fuller (hand)
DE Jarvis Jenkins (elbow)
LB Reggie Ragland (shoulder, knee)