Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch shook up the 49ers’ locker assignments last season, mixing position groups to avoid cliques and bring the team closer together.
Now it’s mostly random, with a few exceptions. Most notably, linebacker Reuben Foster is directly between respected veterans Richard Sherman and Pierre Garçon — and near nose tackle Earl Mitchell, who’s quietly a revered leader-by-example type. On the adjacent corner is left tackle Joe Staley, the team’s emotional superintendent.
“It’s fun. It’s an adventure,” said Sherman when asked what it’s like to be Foster’s locker room neighbor. “As I found out today as I was walking in here, and he had a snafu where he decided he was going to get undressed in the middle of the locker room at this very moment in time, when I was walking out there. But yeah, it’s been great.”
Snafus aside, Sherman and Foster have created a bond, not only as two of San Francisco’s most important defenders, but as mentor and mentee.
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The 49ers love Foster’s ability between the lines, but are also keenly aware of the maintenance he requires off the field, particularly when it comes to decision making and keeping his life structured.
His two arrests this offseason, one of which put his career in doubt, are the obvious examples.
“We do get one-on-one time every day at the locker, so I look forward to playing with him,” Foster said of Sherman on Wednesday, making his first public remarks since rejoining the team following his two-game suspension.
Foster was punished by the NFL for violating the league’s personal conduct and substance abuse policies, stemming from his January arrest in Alabama for marijuana possession and his February charge for possessing an assault rifle.
Police found a fully loaded Sig Sauer 516 on Foster’s bathroom floor while responding to a call from his ex-girlfriend, who claimed Foster committed domestic violence against her. She later recanted her claims on the witness stand in Santa Clara Superior Court, saying the allegations were based on lies. The domestic violence and marijuana charges were dropped, but he pleaded no contest to the weapons possession misdemeanor.
A few of Foster’s teammates attended a preliminary hearing to offer support. Safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert sat in the back of the court room. Sherman was there, even though they hardly knew one another.
“He expressed respect for me and my game a long time ago,” Sherman said, noting the two talked following the 49ers’ Week 2 loss in Seattle last season. “... And then when I came here, he brought that back up. He said, ‘Man, I’ve been waiting, I’ve been praying.’ When he saw the news (of signing with the 49ers), he reached out. We had a great conversation.
“He’s a heck of guy, heck of a player. It’s been great to see him mature from everything that’s happened and moved on. Because he’s a great guy and great person. And I think people are going to get a chance to see that.”
Foster has one of the biggest personalities and brightest smiles in the locker room. Shanahan and Lynch have noted teammates are drawn to his personality, and that his energy in the huddle was missed against the Vikings and Lions.
“Just having his presence out there, just from a leadership standpoint, guys gravitate to him,” Shanahan said. “We really enjoy having him around.”
Foster was allowed to rejoin the team in full capacity on Monday following the victory over Detroit. He said he watched the game from his home while “really going in on the TV, just being a true fan and cheering my brothers on.”
Foster was asked about his feelings about rejoining the team. He even coined another new phrase, which he’s become known for during his scrums with reporters.
“It was just like a holiday, just knowing I could come back and the play the game I love, for real. So I’m just happy, just happy to be happy-go-jolly,” he said.
Foster’s return comes as the 49ers prepare to take on the Kansas City Chiefs, owners of the league’s highest-scoring offense that’s averaging 40 points over the first two games. Budding star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, entering his second season, is slated for his first career start Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Foster, who’s known for his speed and tenacity, will be a welcomed addition after the middle of San Francisco’s defense struggled in his absence.
“They physical,” Foster said of the Chiefs, “fast as hell.”