49ers with Matt Barrows

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New digs, same puzzle: Dawson, Lee busy solving Levi’s wind

08/04/2014 9:19 AM

08/04/2014 12:26 PM

If you're ever invited to watch Andy Lee's video from Saturday's soccer game at Levi's Stadium, you're bound to be disappointed. It doesn't involve the action on the field. Instead the 49ers' punter was focused on how the flags that ring the stadium behaved at the first-ever game played in his team's new digs.

At least one person found the footage absolutely riveting.

“You're looking for whatever keys you can use,” kicker Phil Dawson said of gauging the wind at Levi's. “And right now we're trying to figure out which keys are the important ones. Some flags may point this way, some may point the other way. Which flags mean what? We're sort of at the elementary stage right now, and it's exciting.”

The members of the 49ers' kicking crew are the only players who have practiced inside the stadium. Their teammates will get their chance today at 1 p.m. when the 49ers hold a public practice and the first-ever American football event inside the stadium.

Dawson said that the linemen, running backs and receivers aren't nearly as interested in the wind direction. But they do ask questions about the grass, 2.5 acres of a strain called Bandera Bermuda, which is in perfect shape right now.

Dawson, who spent 14 years in Cleveland before kicking last year at mushy Candlestick Park, said he's mostly worn long cleats on his plant leg throughout his career. Now he's merely using a run-of-the-mill molded cleat, which he says is the best footwear for a kicker.

“It's very playable right now,” Dawson said. “I'm anxious to see how it holds up when the big boys get out there. But from everything I've read about it, it's the type of grass that re-grows very quickly.”

Reading the wind has proven to be a bit more difficult. Dawson said he hopes to master it by the end of the preseason.

Last year, he learned how to kick in an odd-shaped stadium that was a between a steep hill and windy San Francisco Bay. The breezes in Santa Clara are warmer and almost always come out of the northwest.

But that also happens to be the site of a huge notch in Levi's Stadium. It allows the wind to enter the facility where it bounces around.

“What I learned so far is, depending on the velocity of the wind, that affects how hard it starts bouncing and swirling,” Dawson said. “And that's not all that uncommon for stadiums that have open corners.”

NFL kickers are certifiable weather nuts, and Lee and Dawson have plenty of tricks at their disposal.

They'll watch the other's and their opponent's kicks in warm-ups. They'll pay close attention to any pre-game pyrotechnics to see which way the smoke drifts. And they have plenty of weather apps on their phones that they'll consult. (Dawson said he's found one that is particularly accurate, but he wouldn't divulge the identity.)

He's also heard the 49ers plan to install a weather device on the stadium that fans can use in order to better plan for the game.

Said Dawson: “Hopefully by that point, if I hear 'Southwest wind,' I'll know what that means inside the stadium.”

About This Blog

Matt Barrows was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Sacramento Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the San Francisco 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green. Reach Barrows at mbarrows@sacbee.com.
Twitter: @mattbarrows

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