The 49ers played only three games in November, but they were enough for linebacker Reuben Foster to accumulate a team-high 30 tackles and to become the NFL’s Defensive Rookie for the Month.
The honor, which was revealed Thursday, is notable because Foster had appeared in just two contests – and hadn’t finished either – before November began. He suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 1, and as soon as he was able to play again in Week 7, he injured a rib.
The ankle injury continues to bother him at times, and he had to leave Sunday’s game against the Seahawks for one play.
Foster called the award a “big honor” but noted that he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. “There’s more that needs to come,” he said.
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For one, he plans on getting a little bigger in the offseason. Shoulder surgery early in 2016 kept him off the bench press and prevented him from working on his upper-body strength.
He said learning how to use his hands to shed blockers also is on his offseason to-do list.
“You’ve got to use your hands,” he said. “You might have messed-up hands, but you’ve got to play tough. It’s crazy. There’s a big difference from college to the NFL because everybody uses their hands, everybody is violent. Offensive linemen with big, old meaty claws trying to grab you ... it’s crazy.”
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said he wasn’t surprised by the award.
“When we drafted him I thought if he could stay healthy he’d be the Rookie of the Year, no question,” Saleh said. “The defense is built for linebackers to run and hit and get tackles. For him to gobble them up the way he has, it’s not a surprise.”
Foster is the fifth 49ers rookie to win the award, joining Andre Carter, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Chris Borland.
The Offensive Rookie of the Month award went to Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who had a combined 594 rushing and receiving yards in four games in November as well as six touchdowns.
The Saints acquired Kamara in the third round after the 49ers traded them the No. 67 overall pick for a second rounder in 2018 and a seventh-round pick in 2017. The 49ers used the seventh rounder to select defensive back Adrian Colbert.
Beathard practices – C.J. Beathard, who is dealing with hip and knee injuries, practiced on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday. That puts him track to serve as Jimmy Garoppolo’s backup Sunday in Chicago.
If he has a setback, that job would fall to rookie Nick Mullens, who currently is on the practice squad. Mullens has been operating the 49ers’ scout-team offense – it mimics the Bears offense – this week in practice.
“I like Nick, man,” Saleh said. “He diced us up yesterday. He does a good job.”
Et cetera – Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (Christian Brothers High) did not practice Thursday due to an ankle injury. Witherspoon was not on the team’s injury report Wednesday. After trading Rashard Robinson, the 49ers’ only reserves at the position are Leon Hall and Greg Mabin.
▪ Tackle Trent Brown (shoulder) was limited in practice for the second straight day. If he can’t play, Zane Beadles likely would start at right tackle.
▪ Colbert (thumb) continues to practice in a no-contact jersey. Saleh said it’s more likely the rookie will return to action next week against the Houston Texans.
Matt Barrows breaks down how three San Francisco 49ers offensive players might fare with Jimmy Garoppolo starting at quarterback over C.J. Beathard. Beathard was forced out of last Sunday's game against Seattle. The game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field will be Garoppolo's third NFL start.