LaMichael James didn’t mince words when asked about the just-installed grass at Levi’s Stadium.
“You want me to be honest?” the 49ers return man said after Sunday’s 21-7 exhibition win over San Diego. “It was bad. Yeah, it was bad.”
James certainly appeared to have more problems than any other player with the newly laid sod, slipping to the ground on two kickoffs and a punt return. He said he turned his ankle the first time he went to the ground, although it didn’t seem to affect him the rest of the game.
“I should have had better cleats, to be honest,” he said. “I should have known the situation coming in here. I’ll take the blame on that.”
Most of his teammates gave milder reviews, saying the field conditions, while not ideal, were better than they were a week earlier against Denver and certainly better than the Wednesday practice at Levi’s that had to be halted because of the unsafe surface.
The 49ers ripped up the grass the next day, and Friday, they began putting down a temporary sod for Sunday’s game. That process, however, wasn’t complete until Friday evening, less than 48 hours before kickoff.
As a result, the seams between the rows of sod were visible and the footing wasn’t great. Kicker Phil Dawson’s plant foot seemed to slip while he was trying an extra point in the second quarter, and he received treatment after the game.
“I’m just amazed it was that playable given that it was put in (Friday),” Dawson said.
Dawson made his two field-goal attempts – from 39 and 28 yards – and the extra-point attempt.
Said tight end Vance McDonald: “It was a lot improved since Wednesday. A lot of guys were worried going out, but I think they did a great job preparing for today and it held up really nice.”
The plan is for the temporary field to come up early this week and for the 49ers to start anew with sod that should be able to take root in time for the next event at Levi’s Stadium, a Sept. 6 soccer match between Mexico and Chile, and for the 49ers’ home opener against Chicago on Sept. 14.
Rookies shine – First-round draft pick Jimmie Ward, who has shown a penchant for knocking away and snagging passes in practice, carried that into the game.
In the third quarter, the defensive back made a diving interception along the sideline of a Brad Sorensen pass that was initially tipped by rookie outside linebacker Aaron Lynch.
“I also have to give credit to (cornerback) Dontae Johnson because I believe Dontae Johnson tipped it, too,” Ward said. “I was just happy I was able to make the play.”
Ward played nickel cornerback in the first half and switched to strong safety in the second half. He had one tackle and one deflected pass.
Lynch also had a strong game. He had a sack in the fourth quarter that came after he fought through an obvious hold by the Chargers right tackle. He finished with three tackles and two batted passes.
Down to 75 – The 49ers must trim the 90-man offseason roster to 75 players by Tuesday afternoon and to 53 players by Saturday.
The team could start reducing its numbers by placing players on injury lists such as the physically unable to perform and non-football injury lists.
Three draft picks – guard Brandon Thomas, cornerback Keith Reaser and fullback Trey Millard – and running back Marcus Lattimore are eligible for the non-football injury list. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, tight end Garrett Celek and rookie defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey can go on the PUP list.
In both cases, the players don’t count against the 53-man roster unless they are activated later in the season.
In addition, the 49ers could place nose tackle Glenn Dorsey on injured reserve with a designation to return. However, they are not expected to do so until Sept. 2.
Et cetera – Backup center Marcus Martin suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter when another player fell on the back of his leg. The rookie had to be carted off the field. Coach Jim Harbaugh did not have an update on his condition• Backup fullback Will Tukuafu suffered a head injury in the second half and was being evaluated for a concussion. Safety Ray Ventrone did not finish the game after suffering a hamstring strain. Safety Antoine Bethea did not play after suffering a concussion last week.
• Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was the only active offensive player who did not suit up. Harbaugh had said Lloyd was dealing with a minor injury. Quinton Patton served as the No. 3 wide receiver, while Stevie Johnson didn’t enter the game until the third quarter.
• James, who wore a brace on his right arm to protect his injured elbow, handled kick returns to start the game while rookie Bruce Ellington began as the punt returner. James switched to that role in the second half while Devon Wylie handled punts in the fourth quarter