Kyle Shanahan confirmed on Tuesday what has become obvious over the last few 49ers practices: Reuben Foster is the starter at weak-side linebacker.
The coach, however, said that is subject to change.
“He started the last game, he’s been starting out in these practices,” Shanahan said. “He’s been getting most of the reps, which I believe he needs. But by no means — he can get beat out at any time (by) guys behind him. We’ve got some good guys behind him, too.”
Since Malcolm Smith went down with a season-ending pectoral tear on Aug. 5, Foster has taken the bulk of the snaps at weak-side linebacker with the first-string group. Ray-Ray Armstrong, his main competition at the position, has worked with the second string, including in Friday’s preseason opener in Kansas City.
A day earlier, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh seemed less comfortable with identifying Foster, the 31st pick in the draft, as a starter.
“They’re both doing a really good job with what we’re asking them to do,” Saleh said. “Reuben’s obviously made a couple more plays. Ray has made some plays, but Ray, he’s not out of it by any means. We’re still far from putting a stamp on any evaluation on anyone on the defense.”
Both Shanahan and Saleh said that Foster needs a lot of practice repetitions. Not only is he a rookie, but he missed all of the spring drills.
Foster played 27 snaps against the Chiefs, lining up both at weak-side linebacker with the first string and at middle linebacker with the second-team unit. He received high marks for his first-ever NFL game, one that included a pass break-up in the end zone and a tackle at the goal line.