The San Francisco 49ers welcomed Reuben Foster back to the practice field on Wednesday, and thus far, reports are positive about his ankle. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said on Thursday that Foster is looking good, but they are taking it day-by-day to see how he progresses.
Foster will get back to a significant role when he returns to the lineup, but even without him in, the 49ers have made some changes to their rotation. The most notable this past week saw NaVorro Bowman no longer in an ironman role. He still finished with the most work among linebackers, but the 49ers coaching staff gave him a couple series off.
Saleh said on Thursday that the plan going in was to get him rest in order to keep him fresh longer. The 49ers defense has played a lot of snaps, and leads the NFL in minutes player per game. Saleh said that it will vary, because sometimes the defense will find itself playing significantly fewer snaps. But we can expect plenty of rotation to keep players fresh as needed.
Bowman is not one to take too kindly to seeing his playing time cut, but Saleh is comfortable with the situation. He fully expects Bowman to be angry about losing playing time, but he thinks it will help him, and they’re both professional who can handle this.
“I would expect Bowman to be the most angry human being in the entire world. I would expect nothing else. And I would expect him to fight tooth-and-nail to come off the field, and I would expect him to fight tooth-and-nail to get back on the field. And that’s why Bowman is a special football player, and that’s why he’s been fantastic his entire career. And like I said, no player wants to come off the field, nobody, and so I completely understand where NaVorro’s coming from. It is not uncomfortable because in the end, we’re all men, we’re all professionals, and we all have a job to do. And at the end of the day, there is no doubt that Bowman performs, will perform at a great level — and all of them, the d-line included — they’ll all perform at a great level if we can get their snap counts down.”
When Reuben Foster does return to action, I could see situations where Foster replaces him in the dime, and Foster and Ray-Ray Armstrong end up playing more in the nickel. Brock Coyle would likely return to almost entirely special teams duty, and suddenly the linebacker depth would look that much better.