(Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Reuben Foster, Adrian Colbert on injury report again — How can the 49ers protect their hard-hitting rookies?

If the 49ers are going to realize their big dreams for the future, Reuben Foster and Adrian Colbert figure to play a major role.

The rookie defenders, taken at the end of the first and seventh round respectively, have made a significant impact during the Niners’ encouraging rebuilding season. Foster is ranked as the fourth best linebacker in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and Colbert clocks in as the No. 40 safety — out of 87 and ahead of fellow rookie and top-10 pick Jamal Adams, who many credit for making the New York Jets’ defense formidable.

Foster and Colbert play a bruising style: Utilizing their impressive speed, they fly around the field and don’t hold back when they deliver hits. It’s an effective style as they’re sure tacklers who know how to harness their athletic talents. But it comes at a cost.

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Foster and Colbert have been forced to miss playing time this season as they deal with injuries. They both appeared on the 49ers injury report after their 44-33 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

They’ll be limited for practice during the week leading up to the season finale on Sunday in Los Angeles, where the Niners will play the Rams. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said Foster suffered a stinger in his shoulder and that Colbert had an AC sprain, but both should be available to play come game time.

With Foster and Colbert so central to the team’s future, is there any plan in place to lessen some of the inherent risks of playing that way?

“It’s something we definitely have to look into, especially the amount that it’s happened to both of them,” Shanahan said in a conference call Tuesday. “That’s one of the things that makes them best, how hard that they do hit. But I think we’re going to have to look into it a lot this season, based off techniques and things like that, if we could not lose what they do so great, but also put them in a better position to stay healthy.”

A professional offseason should help them better prepare their bodies for the grueling NFL season. But defensive coordinator Robert Saleh isn’t convinced the solution for Foster is as simple as gaining weight.

“The guy just wants to kill people. So sometimes he kills himself for a play,” Saleh said Thursday. “I don’t know if he’s 240, 250, I think you’re going to have the same result.”

Last spring and summer, Foster had to focus on the combine and draft before rehabbing his shoulder in the run up to training camp. This year, he can focus on healing and making necessary changes to his body.

And if Foster and Colbert are able to put it all together, they’ll look like the biggest bargains of the 2017 Draft.adrian colbertkyle shanahanNFLreuben fosterSan Francisco 49ers

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