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Nick Saban talks about Reuben Foster’s relentless nature, need for structure

The Alabama head coach offered great insight on the 49ers first round pick.

The San Francisco 49ers drafted Reuben Foster at the end of the first round, potentially securing a huge steal in the process. Foster was viewed by many as one of the top handful of most talented players in the 2017 NFL draft. However, he slipped due to a variety of issues, including his injured shoulder, his behavior at the NFL Combine, and a failed drug test at said Combine.

When the 49ers selected Foster, they mentioned sending VP of Football Affairs Keena Turner and the team chaplain to meet with Foster. After the draft, John Lynch acknowledged the need to have support systems in place for players. Foster and Utah running back Joe Williams are the two who have had off-field issues connected most with them, but it applies across the board.

One person who likely has a good idea of what makes Foster tick is his head coach at Alabama, Nick Saban. I don’t know exactly what their relationship was like, but 49ers team reporter Joe Fann had a chance to talk with Saban to discuss Foster. The Alabama coach had some really helpful insight that is worth checking out.

Saban talks about the importance of the team investing in their relationship with them, and having the structure to help him navigate the future. Saban also talks about how relentless Foster is, and how he has a good chance of ending up among the list of Alabama players having really good NFL careers.

I’ve embedded some video at the bottom, but here is a transcript.

For starters, I know you know him better than anybody. So, I would love your scouting report on who you think he is as a player?

“Reuben’s a fantastic player. He’s a great competitor. He’s very, very instinctive, very athletic, quick reactor, can play in space, can cover people. He’s a good enough thumper against the run. A great burst and closing speed. He’s a good blitzer. This guy’s a really, really good player. I mean, I think you got a nice value where you got him.”

I know he wanted to go earlier and so that’s a disappointment to him to some degree. But I think the match in San Francisco with John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan – John Lynch said a couple of times that he felt like Reuben really wanted to be here. And so why do you feel like it’s a good landing spot for him?

“I think the important thing for Reuben is, he’s a great person. I got a great relationship with him. He did extremely well in our program, which has a lot of structure. So, I think organizations that are really willing to invest in relationships with players, to help them navigate the future and doing the right things and making good choices and decisions, are gonna kinda, organizations that are long term that are gonna be most successful — but they’re also the kind of organization that Reuben will thrive in and I think John and Kyle are willing to do that.”

Do you have a relationship with John and Kyle? Have they discussed Reuben with you at all throughout the process?

“Oh yeah. I talked to both of them. I think they really like the player, but I think everybody wants to make sure they fully understand what they’re investing in.”

How would you describe him as a person? When I interviewed him, we had a sit-down with him and Solomon Thomas the day they got here and he said, “To know Reuben is to love Reuben.” How would you describe and his personality?

“Well he’s got a great personality. He’s got an alpha-dog personality when it comes to being a competitor. But he’s a really, really popular guy on our team. He’s really, really well liked. And he’s very positive and upbeat. He’s got a smile on his face all the time. People gravitate to him. So, you know, I think he’s got a great personality.”

You listed a number of traits of his that make him a great football player, but what specifically makes him such a special talent when people are talking about the football player Reuben Foster, the linebacker, they’re talking about maybe one of the better linebackers in the past five, 10 years, in the draft. So what is it specifically that takes him from, this is a great linebacker, to, alright, this is a special player?

“Well, I think that it’s all the things that I talked about before. But I would say the thing that probably is unique is he is a relentless competitor. I mean relentless, when he’s out there playing. I think that’s a difficult standard for a lot of guys to sustain, and it just seems to be a part of who he is.”

I got to ask, I know you’ve had some amazing players come through your program, especially the last five years. So where does Reuben stack up in terms of his football acumen and ability?

“I don’t like to compare players. Reuben’s a really good player and he did a great job for us. I wish we could have finished the season like, you know, for all these seniors that have had a great career at Alabama, it would have been fantastic for them. I wish I could have done more to help them do that, but we’ve had a ton of guys that have been great competitors and really good players and having really good NFL careers. And I would be surprised if he doesn’t fit right in with the top category of those guys.”

What was your biggest piece of advice for him these last couple of weeks?

“Choices and decisions, you know? Choose to do the things you need to do to be successful to accomplish the goals that you have. Have enough self-discipline to do the right things and not do the things you know you’re not supposed to do, so that you have you have a great career. I think there’s so much focus sometimes with these guys and these players on where they get drafted. Where the real focus is, is that’s just the starting point. That’s just where you start. Most important thing is what kind of career you have, and that’s what I try to emphasize to all our players.”

I anticipate you two will keep in touch from time to time as you do with all your players. But what was his reaction, your first interaction with him, following being drafted? What was his reaction to coming to San Francisco?

“Well, I think he’s happy in a good organization, and he’s grateful for the opportunity. It’s his dream to be able to play in the NFL. I think that maybe he’s a little disappointed that he slid that far in the draft. But I also think that he sort of takes responsibility for why that happened. And he’ll learn and grow and get better from it.”