San Francisco 49ers

Bowman-Foster ’17: 49ers get first look at potential starting combination

Reuben Foster takes on Carlos Hyde in 49ers practice

Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster comes up big defending against running back Carlos Hyde during a one-on-one coverage drill in 49ers training camp.
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Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster comes up big defending against running back Carlos Hyde during a one-on-one coverage drill in 49ers training camp.

Reuben Foster can tell you two things about NaVorro Bowman.

1. The veteran linebacker has massive arms. “His arms are like my legs. It’s crazy,” Foster said in May shortly after the 49ers used a first-round draft pick on him.

2. Bowman is impossible to rattle.

“He’s always calm,” Foster said of his teammate’s practice-field demeanor. “You never see him break a sweat or panic. I don’t know if he’s learned from his mistakes or whatever, but it freaks me out sometimes.”

Foster will likely have plenty more observations shortly.

The two practiced together Monday for the first time this summer after another veteran, Malcolm Smith, was placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle.

The 49ers haven’t handed Smith’s job to the rookie yet. Instead, he and Ray-Ray Armstrong, who began the 2016 season in the starting lineup next to Bowman before suffering his own torn pectoral muscle, each will get a chance to play with the first-string unit in practices.

“It’s still training camp, so we’re still in the evaluation process,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Monday. “Reuben got first dibs today.”

Still, it’s clear the 49ers have been contemplating a Bowman-Foster duo since they took Foster with the 31st overall selection in April and then declared he was one of top three players in the entire draft.

If Bowman is a quiet storm, Foster is more like brush fire – full of energy and capable of quickly heading in any direction.

Though he sat out all of the 49ers’ spring practices while his surgically repaired right shoulder healed, he was immediately visible when training-camp sessions began last month.

He leads San Francisco’s defense in summer interceptions. He has three in 11-on-11 situations – third-string, undrafted quarterback Nick Mullens has been a frequent victim – and another two during drills in which the linebackers are tasked with covering a running back coming out of the backfield.

He’s just as lively with the media.

As reporters filed into the interview room on Monday, Foster greeted them at the door with handshakes. His quip about Bowman’s arms drew laughs in May. He had several comedic flourishes Monday, including when he described how his first foray with the starters at Alabama ended with him making a mistake, which led to coach Nick Saban banishing him to the sideline.

“Coach Saban chewed me out,” Foster said.

Oh? What’d he say?

Foster, looking at the TV cameras, a wide grin on his face: “Not here.”

That’s one of the reasons the 49ers fell for Foster – he’s immediately likeable and quickly established himself as a leader in college, even on an Alabama defense teeming with talent.

His current coaches are intent, however, that he earns his starting job.

“You know, he’s had flash plays and he’s had busts that a common person won’t notice,” Saleh said. “But at the same time, he’s been asked to learn a lot in a very short amount of time.”

What’s promising, Saleh said, is that Foster has been an attentive student in the film room and rarely makes the same error twice.

Saleh said Foster merely needs practice repetitions. He’s poised to see plenty of them – with Bowman by his side – over the next few weeks.

“He’s still a rookie,” Saleh said. “The game is faster, the linemen are faster, they’re stronger. The scheme is different. So he just needs reps – over and over and over again. He just needs to get attacked, and all the different fundamentals that we’re asking him to do, he needs to get attacked in those situations just so he understands what his weaknesses are within the scheme.”

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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