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How the 49ers Plan to Keep Their 'Waterboy' Healthy in 2018

"We got our 'Waterboy' back."

That's how Robert Saleh described Reuben Foster's return to the offseason program in late May. Saleh, of course, was referring to how Foster's play mirrors Adam Sandler's famed movie character Bobby Boucher.

The San Francisco 49ers linebacker is known for playing with abandon – sprinting sideline-to-sideline in merciless pursuit of opposing ball carriers. But being the hammer can still have its consequences as Foster's jaw-rattling hits often had detrimental repercussions. There were several occasions last season where Foster would suffer shoulder stingers that temporarily took him out of games. I'm sure you all remember Newton's Third Law from your high school physics classes: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

That's why Foster's training camp will be spent learning how to better absorb the impact of those high-speed collisions.

"I think that's the hardest thing for all athletes," Kyle Shanahan said. "You do things that make you successful your entire life, then you see there's different ways to do things and ways that you can change things up to maybe help your career. But, that just doesn't happen automatically."

It starts with Foster using his hands more in an attempt to rely on his shoulders less. That's something Saleh preaches to his entire defense, but the importance of proper technique is especially important to Foster's playing style.

Improving his hands will help Foster keep separation from blockers so he can get on and off blocks easier. Foster's biggest downfall as a rookie was that he struggled to get disengaged from blockers. When it was time to make a tackle, he'd often do so in an awkward position.

"It's just trying to teach him how to create extension and space so guys just can't latch on to him," Saleh said. "Utilizing his hands, getting his shoulders and his upper body out of there, that's just base fundamental teaching for all our guys.

"He'll be able to put himself in a better football position to go make a nice, clean tackle like a linebacker usually does."

The 49ers are relying on Foster to stay healthy in 2018. He's a game-changing talent, illustrated by his 72 tackles in just 10 games and a Defensive Rookie of the Month award (November). Foster will return in Week 3 after serving his two-game suspension and be expected to elevate the 49ers defense immediately.

That makes this a perfect example of why physical practices are so important during camp. They give all players, Foster included, the reps needed to make proper adjustments. Once it becomes muscle memory, he'll be able to make fundamentally sound tackles without conceding any of his trademark physicality.

"The more he does it each day he'll develop some better habits," Shanahan said.

Added Saleh: "He's really, really working hard to make sure that he masters that so he can become even more effective as a run defender and a blitzer and even in coverage, for that matter.

"It'll save his shoulders, it'll save his upper body."