All eyes in the Levi’s Stadium crowd were drawn to the field this weekend, as Saturday’s open practice marked the first time many fans were able to see their favorite 49ers since the close of the 2014 season.
While spectators oohed and aahed at the displays of athleticism, many on the sideline cringed and held their breath at the sight of the Levi’s Stadium turf.
Yes, it’s a new year with old problems still plaguing the 49ers. The turf at Levi’s Stadium took plenty of criticism last year, and had to be replaced multiple times prior to the start of the regular season due to its inability to take root and withstand the brutal movements and cuts of football.
If yesterday’s practice was any indication, the 49ers are no better off for the 2015 season. Signs of trouble appeared almost immediately, as several wide receivers lost footing or dug divots during warmups alone. By the end of the practice, parts of the expensive Levi’s Stadium turf looked like the PGA had held chipping lessons.
Perhaps not wanting to disappoint fans in his teams first public appearance, head coach Jim Tomsula let his practice go the distance. However, he immediately acknowledged the state of the field following the outing:
“Talking about the grass right away, I mean obviously right here where you’re looking, probably need to rethink how we can do an individual period. An individual will chew this up right here, with the DB’s and the wide receivers and the DB’s down there along the edges. The middle of the field is good, so the team period I wasn’t concerned about at all.”
The good news is that not all of Levi’s Stadium’s turf is failing, just the sides of the field. Tomsula isn’t oblivious to this fact, having wisely cut a few minutes off of personal drills and stating that the team at any time will revert back to the SAP Training Facility field if the conditions get too bad. But when will enough be enough?
Even if the edges of the field are only the problem, that still leaves receivers, cornerbacks and others who make cuts towards the sideline at higher risk of injury. Will the 49ers act if Anquan Boldin, who was seen slipping Saturday night, gets hurt? Maybe it will only take a Tramaine Brock injury to pique their interest. For a team marred by injury last season, their home field currently presents the biggest threat to their plan to stay healthy.
As for Tomsula, he finds himself in a sensitive position while trying to replace a beloved head coach on a team in “reload” mode. One might think he would go the extra thousand miles to keep his new team safe, but Tomsula appears at ease about the situation:
“We’re not gonna come out here if it’s not safe. But our grass guys are fantastic. I mean, they’re phenomenal. They wouldn’t let us come out here if it was a problem.”
For somebody with a lot to lose, Tomsula had better know what he’s doing. In fact, the biggest selling point of Tomsula this offseason has been the way he connects and cares for his players on a different level from previous coaches.
But it only takes one slip, one wrong movement for a key player’s season to be derailed, and any time spent on slippery turf boosts the possibility of injury. Former coach Jim Harbaugh knew that when he cut short a public practice last year due to the same concerns. And the 49ers organization knew that after having had to replace the turf multiple times last season.
But there appears to have been no correction made in preparation for the 2015 season. And with multiple big name music acts having played, or still having yet to play, at Levi’s, more turf replacement seems in store in the future.