- The Washington Times - Friday, August 14, 2020

Reuben Foster was asked about his reputation. So much, after all, had happened in the past 18 months alone, and the 26-year-old linebacker had yet to speak publicly about any of it. He arrived to Washington days after the San Francisco 49ers released him for his second domestic violence arrest. Those charges were eventually dropped, but not before Washington faced severe backlash for signing someone with a history of legal troubles.

There was a debate over whether Foster deserved another chance. Did he disagree with the perception of him?

“To know Reuben is to love Reuben, that’s all I have to say,” Foster said. “I love myself and I always keep myself happy.”

Foster ultimately received an opportunity — one that has also brought its own series of challenges for the 2017 first-rounder. Upon joining Washington, he was placed on the Commissioner Exempt list and missed the rest of the season while his legal case unfolded.  Then, months after being cleared, Foster suffered a horrific knee injury during an offseason practice in May 2019. Foster not only tore his ACL and LCL, but nerve damage caused Foster to temporarily lose feeling in his foot. It put his career in doubt.

Foster, though, is now back on the field. As Washington’s training camp takes place, Foster is trying to regain the form that made him one of the league’s most promising prospects before his fall out with the 49ers. So far, Foster’s recovery remains a work in progress. After being cleared to practice this week, the linebacker admitted Friday that it was “nerve-wracking” to do so, spending his time focusing on his leg.

Foster said he wonders if he’ll ever be the same.

“It’s weird,” Foster said of returning to football. “Of course, I haven’t been in the game for two years. Of course it’s going to be weird. But, I’m always up for a challenge. I’m up for any challenge, any and every challenge. When it comes to football, I’m not taking baby steps. I’m taking big steps when it comes to football. It was weird coming into it.”

If he can stay healthy, Foster figures to factor in at linebacker. The position features a mix of veterans and younger players, and Foster fits in the middle of that description. Though this will be his fourth NFL season, Foster has appeared in only 16 games, 10 his rookie year and six in 2018. When available, Foster was known as a “thumper” — a word he used to describe himself on Friday.

Foster will have to prove himself. Beyond concerns about his knee, this is a different regime that isn’t responsible for bringing in Foster. Former team president Bruce Allen and coach Jay Gruden are gone. Coach Ron Rivera stands in their place, and Washington didn’t pick up the linebacker’s fifth-year option when it had the chance earlier this offseason due to the uncertainty.

Rivera said he and Foster had a private conversation to go over expectations. Washington released running back Derrius Guice last week following a domestic violence arrest, but Rivera said Foster has done things “the right way” over his time with the team. He also mentioned that Foster has been legally cleared.

As for Foster’s injury, Rivera said he hopes for the same type of recovery as Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith tore his ACL and MCL in college and missed his entire rookie season before eventually developing into a Pro Bowler-caliber player.

“He can be a very big asset, just because of his ability to make plays, his explosiveness as a football player and those explosive plays that he can make,” Rivera said of Foster. “When you have a guy like that, that has that kind of ability and he’s back, it can be a very good thing.”

When Foster arrived to Washington, the team had a plan for Foster to stay out of additional trouble. Washington tasked director of player development Malcolm Blacken and Doug Williams to serve as mentors, with each sharing advice and closely monitoring the linebacker. The team also had a number of Foster’s former teammates at Alabama like Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson on the roster. “They help to keep my sanity,” Foster said.

Foster said he’s tried to listen and follow the advice given. He now cooks at home as a way to take better care of his body, baking swordfish five times per week.

Foster’s goal is to become confident once again, in his leg but also in himself. The last two years, he said, had been filled with nothing but pain. But Foster said he never lost his passion for football.

He called his drive to resume his career “insane.”

“My focus is just so powerful right now,” Foster said. “I’m not trying to fall back. I’m trying to step forward. It’s scary when you go back and you see everything going down. It’s scary, really scary.”

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