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Reuben Foster remains away, opening OTA opportunities at linebacker

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The 49ers have some questions at the linebacker position while Reuben Foster deals with his domestic violence charge. It creates opportunities for others at the position.

The San Francisco 49ers kick off their organized team practice activities (OTAs) on May 21st. Those will run through June 7th, followed by mandatory minicamp June 12th through 14th. This is as important a period as any in the offseason. Players have been going through classroom work, and had individual work on the field. OTAs and minicamp are when teams really get to implement the playbook and get players ready for training camp.

This also means players can take a step forward in competitions for either a starting job or simply a chance to make the roster. We’re a week away from the start of OTAs, so I thought now is a good time to preview each position heading into the on-field workouts.

Today, we move on to the linebackers.

Depth chart

SAM: Eli Harold, Dekoda Watson, Pita Taumoepenu
MIKE: Reuben Foster, Korey Toomer, Brock Coyle
WILL: Malcolm Smith, Fred Warner, Elijah Lee, Mark Nzeocha

The 49ers decided to keep Reuben Foster out of the team’s offseason workout program while he goes through the legal process for his arrest on a domestic violence charge. While the alleged victim recanted her statement to police, the prosecutor is pushing forward, with a preliminary hearing set for May 17th. Foster elected to not waive time, which means the trial must proceed within 60 days after the hearing.

Foster’s situation is likely to be sorted out by the start of training camp, whether he will be avoiding any discipline, or faces a suspension or potential release. In the meantime, the team has addressed the linebacker positions in a couple ways. The team signed Korey Toomer on April 4th, and then spent a third round pick on Fred Warner in the 2018 NFL Draft. They also welcome Malcolm Smith back from his torn pectoral muscle.

What OTAs mean for the position

Brock Coyle, Korey Toomer, and Fred Warner seem to have the most to gain heading into OTAs and minicamp. Elijah Lee and Mark Nzeocha have opportunities as well, but realistically, Coyle, Toomer, and Warner are the three looking to seize the opportunity. If Foster ends up suspended or released when Week 1 arrives, one of these three will join Malcolm Smith and Eli Harold in the starting lineup.

Speaking of Smith, I am curious to see if he ends up working at middle linebacker the next few weeks, or if we see some other kind of rotation. Foster’s status is up in there even if the charges are eventually dismissed. He could avoid a suspension entirely, or the NFL’s investigation could lead to a personal conduct suspension. And he also faces potential discipline his Alabama marijuana case. That means next few weeks of OTAs and minicamp will be helpful in determining the contingency plans the 49ers have in place.