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.
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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.
Sowers on staff – Shanahan said Katie Sowers, whose coaching internship with the 49ers expired last week, will have a full-time role with the team this season.
Shanahan did not yet have an official title for Sowers, who will become just the second full-time female assistant coach in NFL history. But she worked with the wide receivers in the spring and training camp and will have a similar role this season.
“She’s a hard worker,” Shanahan said. “You don’t even notice her because she goes to work and does what’s asked. Because of that, she’s someone we’d like to keep around.”
Et cetera – Defensive end Aaron Lynch, who had two sacks on Friday, will miss the next few practices with an ankle sprain suffered Monday. Lynch had been working at defensive end with the second-team offense. Rookie Pita Taumoepenu took over that role on Tuesday.
▪ Shanahan said safety Jimmie Ward’s hamstring “responded really well” to the vigorous workout he was given Sunday. Still, the 49ers want to make sure that progress continues this week and have not yet taken Ward off the physically-unable-to-perform list. “We’re trying to play it smart with him,” Shanahan said.
▪ With Ward out, Lorenzo Jerome has continued to take most of the first-team snaps at free safety. Jaquiski Tartt, who is coming back from a rib injury, took some repetitions there as well on Tuesday.