San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster returned to practice last week for the first time since suffering a high-ankle sprain in a game against the Carolina Panthers on September 10. That Wednesday, which was his first day back, he looked good, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan. However, the next two days prompted the coach to decide against playing Foster during Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins.

Shanahan seems more optimistic that his star rookie linebacker will return to the football field this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

"I do expect him to (play)," Shanahan told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. "I guess I should use the words, 'I'm optimistic.' Maybe not 'expect.' I'm being more optimistic. I was hoping last week. Definitely wasn't as optimistic last week and more optimistic this week but you never know.

"High-ankle sprain, you don't know how those act. I'm just really hoping he can get three good days of practice in and if he does, I feel pretty confident he'll be out there."

The 49ers could use a spark on defense if they hope to earn their first victory of the season. Foster would certainly qualify as a potential spark. The team already got a spark on offense on Sunday when rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard saw his first significant playing time after replacing an ineffective Brian Hoyer. Beathard entered the game trailing by two touchdowns and came within two points of a victory. It was the fifth-straight loss by three-or-fewer points for the 49ers, which is an NFL record.

Foster, the 31st-overall pick in April, was the second of two first-round selections by the 49ers. Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who appears to be developing into a quality run stopper, was taken with the third-overall selection.

Foster, who says that he feels great this week, is just as hopeful that Sunday may be his return to the football field.

"I want to get out there as bad as you all want me to get out there, even if it's just to have a story," Foster told reporters before Wednesday's scheduled practice. "I've just got to listen to the doctor and just abide by their rules and the quicker I listen to them and follow their rules, the quicker I'll be out there. But, we'll see."