SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers on Saturday will do something they've never done in the Jim Harbaugh era: Go through a pre-game practice in their home stadium.
Harbaugh on Friday said the team sometimes checks out a visiting stadium the day before the game but that the 49ers never held a walk-through at Candlestick Park. The team's routine has been to have the walk-through in Santa Clara then bus to the team hotel near Candlestick.
The grass at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara will scrutinized both Saturday and Sunday after the original turf had to be pulled up because it did not hold up to the pounding it takes from an NFL team. Harbaugh had to abruptly halt a practice session in August after a several players slipped when the grass gave way beneath their feet.
The 49ers made several adjustments. Mainly they reconfigured the soil beneath the field. The 49ers – with the help of groundskeeping experts from the NFL and from the Rose Bowl – determined there was too much light sand in the original composition. The new formula is designed to provide a firmer hold for the grass's roots.
They also went with a more tested variety of grass called tifway, which is a staple of playing fields across the country. The 49ers originally had chosen a seldom-used strain called Bandera Bermuda.
So far, members of the team's kicking crew have been the only 49ers to test the new surface. Punter Andy Lee never had an issue with the former field, so he said he wouldn't be a good judge on their relative merits. However, he said on Friday that kicker Phil Dawson seemed to like the current surface more than the old one. Dawson was not available during the team's open locker-room session.
The only game action the reconfigured field has seen so far was a Sept. 6 soccer match between Mexico and Chile. The surface, which was little more than a week old at that point, did not look aesthetically pleasing during the match. But it did not come apart and, perhaps more important, seemed to repair itself well afterward.
That was an issue with the original field, an indication that there was an issue below the surface.
“I think it held up really well for the soccer game. I think we’re ready,” owner Jed York said on KNBR radio this week. “From what we’ve been able to tell, it sounds like the sand composition under the field (was the issue). Having lighter sand ... wasn’t gripping as well. Ultimately, we need to fix it and make sure that it’s set and make sure that it’s right. I think it’s holding very well and I think the field feels pretty good. But we have to make sure it’s the best field in the NFL.”
The Bears will not practice Saturday at Levi’s Stadium, a team spokesman said.