49ers aim to get Reuben Foster back to practice this week

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- If all goes according to plan this week, San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Reuben Foster will return to practice as the Niners prepare for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins.

Of course, even if Foster is able to return to the practice field from the high ankle sprain that has kept him out since Week 1, there's no guarantee he'll be in uniform when the Niners visit the nation's capital.

"You know, I'm excited to hopefully get Reuben back for practice on Wednesday," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "But by no means do I think that means he's going to play on Sunday."

If Foster is able to return, it would add an interesting element to a dynamic that made headlines over the weekend when veteran middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman's snaps were reduced against the Indianapolis Colts. After that 26-23 overtime loss, Shanahan said the plan going in was to cut down on some of Bowman's playing time in an effort to keep him fresh.

Bowman ended up playing all but 18 snaps in the game, though he missed some of those because of a stinger in his neck. Brock Coyle stepped in for Bowman and also had some time rotating with Ray-Ray Armstrong at the weak side linebacker job.

After the game, Bowman voiced his displeasure with the decision to have him sit, but Shanahan stood by it on Monday, noting that he thought it was effective, as Bowman led the team in tackles.

"We think keeping him fresher will help him, which will help our team. And if it does and helps him play at a higher level, then the plan worked," Shanahan said. "You see how guys react to it and you watch that tape each week. You watch practice each week, you watch how their bodies recover, how it goes through a 16-game season. And it's not to phase anyone out or to go younger or to go to kind of what your original question was. It's what do we think will help the player, which helps the team. And that's what we feel is the best for us right now. And kind of been leaning towards that way these last two weeks and plan on continuing that."

So, what happens when Foster returns? Well, Foster is the linebacker on the roster who, when healthy, will probably be on the field the most. He has the three-down ability to be a true difference maker on a team that needs as many of those as it can get.

Once Foster returns, though, the 49ers will have to figure out the best plan to get him back up to speed. He played only about a dozen snaps before suffering the injury and will likely need some time to work his way back into football shape.

So even when the Niners get Foster back, it's likely they will continue to rotate different options at both inside linebacker spots, at least until Foster proves he can handle a full work load.

"We don't want to put all that on Reuben anyways right away, to get him out there so much," Shanahan said. "We'll see how he looks, and then we'll evaluate week to week. The more guys we get healthy, the better problem that I have. There's lots of guys who I believe can help us, and we've got to put together the best package depending on who we're playing, what types of backs we're going against, what type of style offense they have and, really, how it plays out through health, too, throughout the year."