Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer 32d

Kyle Shanahan 'optimistic' Reuben Foster will return this week

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster is aware of how many people are anticipating his return from a high ankle sprain. Teammates, coaches, fans, even media.

"I want to get out there as bad as you all want me to get out there, just to have a story," Foster said, laughing. "But I have just got to listen to the doctor and abide by their rules. We'll see."

Foster is now in his sixth week of working his way back from the ankle injury he initially suffered after just 11 snaps in the season opener against the Carolina Panthers. That falls on the late end of the original four-to-six week timetable expected for his return.

But Foster has been tantalizingly close to returning for the past couple of weeks. In fact, there were plenty of signs that Foster would play last week against the Washington Redskins. Alas, he didn't make it through the practice week without any issues and with the Niners playing on FedEx Field's notoriously sloppy track, Shanahan informed Foster on Saturday that he wouldn't be playing.

"They thought I wasn't ready," Foster said. "So if they have any [doubts], they're not going to go with it. They do a great job of making sure their players are well prepared and ready to go so we don't have any setbacks out on the field."

This week, though, Foster seems to have a much better chance to return. He was again limited in Wednesday's practice but where Shanahan was hopeful last week, he's downright bullish on it happening Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

"I do expect him to [return]," Shanahan said. "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. But, I'm more optimistic this week. You never know. It's a high ankle sprain. You don't know how those act. I'm just really hoping he can get three good days of practice in. If he does, I feel pretty confident he'll be out there."

If Foster does return this week, he's expected to plug in at middle linebacker, the position left open by NaVorro Bowman's release last week. Foster played weak side linebacker next to Bowman in his lone appearance this season but with Bowman gone, Shanahan has indicated that Foster would move inside with Ray-Ray Armstrong on the weak side.

Brock Coyle started for Bowman last week and struggled against Washington.

"I feel great but it's up to the doctors for me to get cleared and be out there so whatever they ask me to do, I'm there," Foster said.

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