SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Reuben Foster spent the first two weeks of the football season being a fan, cheering on his San Francisco 49ers teammates from his couch while serving a two-game suspension.
When he got the chance to rejoin his teammates this past Monday, he was ready to celebrate.
"It was like a holiday," Foster said Thursday. "It was just like a holiday just knowing I could come back and play the game I love for real. I’m happy that I’m playing the cards right off the field and on the field."
The end of the suspension for violating the NFL’s policies on substance abuse and personal conduct closes a difficult stretch for Foster that had him spending much of the off-season dealing with legal issues rather than preparing for his second season in the NFL.
He was charged in January in Alabama with second-degree marijuana possession. That charge was eventually dismissed after he completed a first-time offender diversion course.
Foster then faced more serious charges for an incident in California in February. He was initially charged in April with felonies for domestic violence, making criminal threats and weapons possession after being accused of beating up his ex-girlfriend.
A judge ruled there was no probable cause on the first two charges after the ex-girlfriend recanted the allegations and the judge found no other evidence to support the charges. The weapons charge was reduced to a misdemeanour and Foster pleaded no contest to that in June.
He was sentenced to two years’ probation, 232 hours of community service, and $235 in fines.
After dealing with all that and then a suspension, Foster is wary of being too amped when he finally gets a chance to be back on the field.
"I got to be real cautious about being too excited this week on my first day back," he said. "Getting overwhelmed is very easy. I do that every time. Even if you all don’t see it, I do it a lot."
Having Foster back Sunday will be key when the 49ers (1-1) face the potent Kansas City Chiefs (2-0). With Andy Reid’s offence featuring a promising young quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, speedy playmakers like Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt and a threat at tight end in Travis Kelce, the Niners will have their hands full.
Kansas City leads the NFL with 80 points through two games, thanks to 10 touchdown passes by Mahomes, and is second in the NFL averaging 7.44 yards per play.
"They do a lot of stuff," defensive co-ordinator Robert Saleh said. "They mess with your eyes. They’ve got a lot of different jet sweeps and movement. They’ve got a very good vertical pass game. They’ve got a good run game. So, you never know what they’re going to do when they break the huddle and you’ve got to be ready, basically ready for everything."
With Foster returning this week and Malcolm Smith recovered from a hamstring injury that sidelined him the first two weeks, the 49ers have decisions to make at linebacker for Sunday’s game.
Rookie Fred Warner has played middle linebacker the first two weeks and fared well in the difficult role of calling the defence. Warner has 19 solo tackles, three assists and a forced fumble through two games.
"I’ve seen a dog in Fred. I’ve seen a real dog, a mature man who goes about his business," Foster said. "I really salute him for that and pride him for stepping up and taking control of the defence. I’ve worn the green sticker and it’s really hard to wear the green sticker. I’m really proud of him."
The 49ers haven’t said whether Warner will remain in the middle with the green dot on his helmet signalling he’s getting the defensive calls or which linebackers will start.
But with Foster showing promise last year as a rookie with 72 tackles in 10 games, and Warner delivering early this season, the 49ers appear to have the makings of a capable duo at the two inside linebacker positions.
"They’re both instinctual and they trust what they see," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "That’s a big part of this game, just being able to play fast and seeing something and being able to react to what they see. There are a lot of guys who can be smart on paper or see it on film. Going out and translating it is difficult for a lot of guys and those two do it as well as anybody."
NOTES: Sherman missed practice with a heel injury. Sherman had surgery on both Achilles tendons in the past year. … S Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) and G Joshua Garnett (toe) also didn’t practice.