A former 49ers linebacker who witnessed what it took to be a great, playing alongside Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, saw no difference in Reuben Foster as a player or person.
“He’s undisciplined, and you can see that in the way he plays the game and you can see that in his lifestyle,” ex-NFL linebacker Michael Wilhoite said on The 49ers Insider Podcast.
The 49ers on Monday officially cut Foster, a 2017 first-round pick, after he was arrested Saturday at the team hotel in Tampa, Florida, for misdemeanor domestic violence. The accuser, Elissa Ennis, told police she wanted to press charges against Foster for domestic violence.
The same woman was involved in a domestic incident involving Foster in February in Los Gatos. After initially telling investigators that Foster hit her eight to 10 times in the head, she recanted her version of events under oath during the preliminary hearing. She said she lied about her accusations as retribution against Foster, who told her he wanted to break up.
Wilhoite played six years in the NFL. After playing his first five years with the 49ers, he finished his career last season with the Seattle Seahawks. Although Wilhoite was never a teammate of Foster, he closely watched the former Alabama star. Wilhoite said Foster’s play this season showed he was not fully committed to doing the things necessary to excel in professional football.
“You can see it in the way he plays,” Wilhoite said. “He’s, ‘See ball, get ball.’ There’s no execution. There’s no technique to his game, (no) fundamentals. He was one of the top guys in the league in missed tackles this year. And that’s just being undisciplined.
“It looked like he didn’t have any discipline. It was almost like nobody was sitting Reuben down and saying, ‘Reuben, you have to do this better;’ ‘You have to carry this special route in cover 3;’ ‘You have to be in the A-gap when it’s one back.’ It’s like nobody was sitting him down and making him understand that all these little details that go into playing football are very important.”
Perhaps the biggest indicator that Foster was not capable of living up to his potential as a player came when the 49ers opted to play him at weakside linebacker. After spending the No. 31 overall pick in the draft on Foster, the club expected him to eventually take over as the starting middle linebacker.
The middle linebacker in the 49ers’ defense is in charge of relaying the radio call from the sideline, then making sure the adjustments are made to get his teammates in the correct positions. The player with the radio transmitter is identified by a green dot on his helmet.
Instead, the 49ers awarded that responsibility to rookie Fred Warner.
“They didn’t trust him,” Wilhoite said of Foster. “When you put that green dot on somebody’s helmet, you trust that person. You feel like this person can communicate with everybody on the defense what we want him to communicate. We believe he can put guys in the proper places where they’re supposed to be. Then, he can go make plays after the ball is snapped, and they didn’t trust him to do that. And that’s why they didn’t give him the green dot.”