SANTA CLARA – Second-year linebacker Reuben Foster was around his teammates during the first two weeks of the regular season, but Monday marked a new beginning for him.
After serving a two-game suspension for violations of the NFL’s policies on substances of abuse and personal conduct, Foster was able to participate in all team activities when he reported back to work on Monday.
“It’s like a holiday, just knowing I can come back and play the game I love,” Foster said on Thursday. “So I’m just happy to be playing the cards right and doing good off the field and on the field, and doing nothing off the field so I won’t be off the field again.”
Foster, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2017, admitted during training camp that he feared his career could be over when he faced an allegation of domestic violence. He was cleared of those charges, but served an NFL suspension that stemmed from marijuana and weapons charges.
During his suspension, Foster was able to attend all meetings but was not allowed to attend games, participate in practice, watch practice or take part in team lifting sessions.
Brock Coyle and Elijah Lee started the first two games at weak side linebacker in place of Foster. He is expected to provide the 49ers with a much-needed playmaker on defense upon his return.
“This is his first game back. We’re excited to have him,” said cornerback Richard Sherman, whose locker is stationed next to Foster’s. “He’s excited to be back out there. He brings incredible energy and speed and explosiveness and physicality to the defense, and we appreciate it.”
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Foster will make his season debut on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. His presence is something coach Andy Reid said his team is game-planning against.
“Reuben’s a good football player,” Reid said. “We looked at him when he came out, liked him, had him visit up here, the whole deal. He’s a heck of a football player, and he flies around and makes plays. We’re going to be aware of where he’s at, and do our best to do well against him.”
Foster's return comes at a good time. The defense is banged up and going against one of the fastest offenses in the NFL.
Said 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, “He’s got fresh legs. He looks fast. So we’re excited to have him back. Love his energy.”
Foster also seems to love his new role in the defense. Rookie Fred Warner is wearing the green dot on his helmet, signifying the responsibility of relaying the radio call from the sideline to his 10 teammates in the huddle.
Because he no longer has that duty on defense, Foster says it allows him up to just play football with a clear mind and “get on someone’s tail.”
Warner, who will remain as the starter in the middle of the 49ers’ defense, appears cut out for that leadership role, Foster said.
“I’ve seen a real dog in Fred, a real mature man who goes about his business,” Foster said. “And I really salute him for that. I’m proud of him for stepping up and taking control of the defense, wearing the green sticker. I’ve worn the green sticker, and it’s hard to wear the green sticker, so I’m really proud of him.”