SANTA CLARA — Reuben Foster, who was held back during spring practices while his surgically repaired shoulder continued to heal, is on track to be a full participant for the start of training camp and for what many believe will be the 49ers’ best competition of the summer session.
Foster widely was considered the top inside linebacker in the recent draft. But he fell to the end of the first round, No. 31 overall, due to an array of issues starting with his right shoulder. One team told ESPN that the February surgery to repair his rotator cuff “didn’t take” and that other teams were worried Foster wouldn’t make it through his rookie season without a second procedure.
Foster has downplayed those concerns as have the 49ers. They have said they were prepared to take Foster third overall if the player they ultimately selected there, Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, had been unavailable.
During the draft, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who was allowed inside the team’s draft room, general manager John Lynch called out to the head trainer, Jeff Ferguson, and asked if the 49ers were worried about Foster’s shoulder.
“What shoulder?!” was Ferguson’s response, per King.
While most of his teammates spread out across the country during the month-long break that precedes training camp, Foster continued his rehabilitation in Santa Clara.
He took part in individual sessions in May and June and seemed to ramp up his activity during the team’s mid-June minicamp. However, he was held out of any offense-vs.-defense situations in which a chance collision could have jarred the shoulder.
The rough-and-tumble linebacker is expected to be set loose this week. The 49ers initially want him to play weak-side linebacker, the spot free-agent addition Malcolm Smith was playing with the first-string defense in the spring.
The 49ers gave Smith a five-year, $26.5 million contract largely because he is one of the few players familiar with the scheme the team is using this year. That familiarity, coupled with Smith’s speed, made him one of the standouts of the spring season, which is why his battle with Foster is so highly anticipated.
The winner of that competition likely will line up next to NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco’s middle or “Mike” linebacker.
All the 49ers players will undergo physicals as they return to Santa Clara next week. Any injuries suffered in the last few weeks could land a player on the non-football injury list to begin training camp.
However, there were no lingering injuries from last season nor any serious ones suffered in the spring. That means the team is unlikely to place anyone on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list for the start of camp.