The 49ers’ best run stopper needs to improve his tackling.
This, according to defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who said linebacker Reuben Foster will enjoy better longevity if he learns not to leave his feet when making a hit.
“When he learns to run his feet through contact he’s going to destroy people without hurting himself,” Saleh said. “That’s something he’s got to learn in the offseason – how to tackle the right way.”
There’s no debating that Foster, whom the 49ers took with the 31st pick in the draft, is a ferocious hitter and already is excellent versus the run.
Despite just nine starts this season, he ranks second on the team in tackles (67) to cornerback Dontae Johnson (72), who has started all 15 games. Along with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett and Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, Foster is one of the top defensive rookies in the league.
But he’s also dealt with an array of injuries, including bruised ribs and a shoulder stinger that has sent him to the sideline at least once in the last three games, including when he collided with a Jacksonville Jaguars tight end on Sunday.
Foster agreed that he needed to better harness his natural aggression and that he was eager – maybe too eager – when he finally was cleared for contact following right shoulder surgery in the offseason.
“I wanted to be a wild guy out on the field,” he said Thursday. “But it’s just that I’ve got to learn my techniques and fundamentals and really do things right. Because I want to play this game for a very, very long time.”
Foster said that the shoulder issues that have kept him out of a play or two in recent games are unrelated to the rotator cuff surgery he had in February and that no follow-up is needed.
That surgery, however, prevented him from doing a lot of the upper body work any rookie linebacker would have done to prepare for life in the NFL, and as a result, he’s a bit smaller at 228 pounds than a typical inside linebacker.
He said a full offseason of training and technique work is in store for him in 2018. He said his coaches at Alabama didn’t have any issues with how he tackles and that it would be tough to adjust his untamed style. But he also noted that the players he encountered were a little different than they were in college.
“It’s a bigger, faster sport,” he said of the NFL. “So, of course, you’ve got to get bigger, faster and take care of your body.”
As far as working on his techniques, Foster said he’d study all of the top linebackers in the league, including one inside the division.
“The one I see is Bobby Wagner,” Foster said of the Seahawks linebacker. “He uses his hands a lot. And he’s a great linebacker who I look forward to watching in previous years … to see how he made it.”
Strong-side rookie – One of the few 49ers draft picks who hasn’t seen the field much this year is sixth-round pick Pita Taumoepenu.
The 49ers selected him with the thought he could play the “Leo” pass-rush position. The plan now is for Taumoepenu to mainly line up on the other side of the formation, at the strong-side linebacker spot where he would compete with Eli Harold, Dekoda Watson and anyone else the team brings in.
“The big thing for him is strength,” Saleh said. “He’s smart enough, he’s fast enough. … I think he can play SAM linebacker and be an effective edge setter the way he is now. But in terms of winning one-on-ones in pass rush and being a guy that demands linemen to block him rather than just (running) backs, that’s going to be where he needs to get better.”