SANTA CLARA — Reuben Foster looked every bit a play-making, turnover-forcing machine immediately into his rookie training camp last year. Interceptions came daily, along with a fumble or two. His hands were magnets to the football.
“The ball’s got a thing for me. I don’t got a thing for the ball,” Foster quipped back then with his fun-loving smile.
Now, 14 games into his career, Foster has no interceptions, no fumble recoveries, no forced fumbles and a bum shoulder. That injury aside, he typifies the state of the 49ers lackluster defense.
As much as the 49ers (1-6) have been hurt by their turnover-prone offense (18 giveways), their defense isn’t bailing them out (three takeaways) as they take a five-game losing streak into Sunday’s game at the Arizona Cardinals (1-6).
“It’s not just Reuben. It’s all of our guys,” coach Kyle Shanahan said.
Foster is not just another guy, however. He arrived as a first-round draft pick, packed with potential if healthy and clear of off-field trouble.
Foster acknowledged Thursday that a right-shoulder injury is hindering him, but he plans to play through that pain the rest of this season.
“It doesn’t go numb. It’s a sharp pain that goes on and off,” Foster said. “I want to stay out there the whole time. I listen to my coaches and trainer. Whatever they decide for me, I know it’s best.”
Foster said an MRI recently revealed no structural damage to a shoulder that required surgery for a torn rotator cuff prior to last year’s draft. Added Foster: “It was just tweaked, probably fluid, and something you have to continue to rehab.”
Said defensive coordinator Robert Saleh: “He’s a fighter. He wants to be great. It might trigger here and there but he’s not coming off.”
While Foster has aggravated a right-shoulder injury the past few games, he’s not the play-maker the 49ers sorely needed coming out of his two-game suspension, discipline from his offseason arrests.
“There is a little bit of rust to him, not that that’s an excuse,” Shanahan said. “That’s what he needs to do, to find a way to get that rust off. We haven’t yet, but I expect him to as this year goes.”
An ankle injury kept him out basically his first six games last year, but he finished strong as the 49ers second-leading tackler. Can he rally like last season?
“Reuben is still trying to get back to where he finished last year,” Shanahan added. “He’s not there yet I think he’s had times where he shows it, but his consistency needs to improve and he knows that. I know that.”
Foster had only two tackles in Sunday’s 39-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams before leaving in the fourth quarter with a right-shoulder sprain. He’s looked lost too often on the field this season, and not as aggressive at the point of attack.
“He did miss his second offseason for things that we all know about, which is on Reuben,” Shanahan said. “Then when he got here, knowing he was going to be suspended those first two games, he didn’t get as many reps there towards the end and things like that.”
A lot of reps remain. They’re instrumental for Foster’s development, not necessarily for 2018 but 2019 and beyond. It’s time he has a thing for the ball, and vice versa.