Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports



San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Reuben Foster was a highlighted topic of discussion following the team's training camp practice on Monday. He got to work with the first-team defense at the weak-side linebacker spot next to NaVorro Bowman following Saturday's injury to Malcolm Smith.

"He did not look out of place," said observer Kevin Jones of KNBR.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who met with the media following practice, was quick to temper expectations saying that it is still early and the team is still in the evaluation process. Foster's day with the first-team defense does not necessarily mean that he has jumped the competition in the depth chart.

"Reuben got first dips today with the ones," Saleh said. "You'll see Ray-Ray (Armstrong) get some reps with the ones. It really doesn't mean anything today."

What does Foster need to do in order to earn the right to start on the defense?

"He needs reps," Saleh said. "He's still a rookie. The game is faster. The linemen are faster. They're stronger. The scheme is different. He just needs reps over and over and over again and he needs to get attacked in all the different fundamentals that we're asking him to do. He needs to get attacked in those situations just so he understands what his weaknesses are within the scheme."

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Saleh was asked if the team might explore the possibility of rotating Foster and Armstrong on defense in order to take advantage of each's strengths.

"I think they're both good in run and pass, to be honest," Saleh said. "Maybe I'm being biased as a coach. I think they both have great strengths. We're so detailed in our run game that I think they'll both be good in the run. We're so specific in our coverage that they'll be good in coverage. It comes down to production, people making plays, and doing things the right way and fundamentally being sound and people performing once these games start."

While Foster was able to dive into the playbook early on, he was limited during the 49ers' offseason program as he recovered from shoulder surgery. He was cleared to be a full participant in training camp the day before the team reported.

"He's been asked to learn a lot in a very short amount of time," Saleh said while pointing out that Foster has shown flashes in practices while also making mistakes. "For Reuben, it's a matter of getting those reps. What's great about him is that when he sees it once, he's good. Even when he's made a mistake, he'll be able to recoup and gather himself back up."

The defensive coordinator went on to say that Foster has been better in the film room and learning the playbook than he had anticipated, which has certainly benefitted the rookie as he plays catch up.

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Saleh discussed the loss of Smith, who was placed on injured reserve on Monday. "I feel sick for him," he said while pointing out that Smith might have had his best season in front of him. Saleh said Smith will remain around the team even though he doesn't have to be.

"That's just the person that he is and how he's built," Saleh said.

The depth chart for Friday's preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs will be interesting to see. Will it be Foster or Armstrong lining up next to Bowman at Arrowhead Stadium?

"I can't wait to see the violence at which we play," Saleh said of Friday's game.