SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers have canceled a public practice that was expected to draw 20,000 to Levi's Stadium because of concerns about the playing surface there. The practice will be held instead at the team's regular practice facility, which is next door, but fans cannot attend and another public session will not be rescheduled.
“We extend our sincere apologies to those fans who were scheduled to attend Sunday’s practice,” said Jim Mercurio, vice president of stadium operations, in a statement. “After a thorough inspection earlier today, our grounds crew determined that the field would not be ready by Sunday. Therefore, the recommendation was made to relocate practice. We remain confident that our turf management program will provide a playing surface that meets the team’s standards, as we enter the 2015 NFL season.”
This is the second straight season a practice at Levi's had to be scuttled. Last year, a session was halted after big chunks of grass started to come up under foot, causing players to slip.
The team most recently practiced at Levi's on Wednesday. The field became pock-marked with divots during warm-up drills. Later, rookie running back Mike Davis went down awkwardly when he tried to plant a foot on the loose surface on the south end of the field.
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Davis was not injured, but the 49ers were more cautious from that point forth and ran the rest of team drills at half sped. They also wrapped up the session after just two hours -- short for a training camp practice. The team later said the practice was abbreviated because the defense had only four healthy inside linebackers, and coaches didn't want to overburden that group.
The 49ers felt they had solved last year's issue after they reexamined the soil composition beneath the grass, trucked in loads of new dirt and created a less sandy mix. The field seemed to hold up well during the 2014 regular season after that change was made.
But it has not held firm for training camp. New head coach Jim Tomsula had planned to have the 49ers' first eight practices there. Instead, the team only could practice there twice in succession, Saturday and Sunday, before moving to the practice fields for the next two days. They returned to Levi’s Wednesday for an event in front of season-ticket holders.
Levi’s Stadium is a multi-use facility that holds concerts, soccer games, wrestling matches and other events during the year. Taylor Swift will hold back-to-back concerts on Aug. 14 and 15. At that point, the field will be torn up and new grass will be laid down.
The 49ers will play there on Aug. 23 in an exhibition game against the Cowboys. After that, country singer Luke Bryan arrives Aug. 29 and the field presumably will be removed again.
Mercurio previously has said that the 49ers have contemplated laying down an artificial surface but that they are committed to grass until the Super Bowl on Feb. 7. The NFL will arrive approximately a month before the game and take over operations inside the stadium, including managing the field.