Toma responds to Super Bowl turf controversy: 'Change cleats'


Toma responds to Super Bowl turf controversy: 'Change cleats'

George Toma, the foremost expert on football playing surfaces, had a strong opinion about the much-talked-about grass on the floor of Levi’s Stadium for Super Bowl 50.

“I’m an 87-year-old man and I’ve been in this game for 74 years and been to 50 Super Bowls,” Toma told CSNBayArea.com on Wednesday. “And I thought this was the second-best sod we’ve had at a Super Bowl.”

Toma said the only field he ranks better than what he helped prepare for Sunday's game was Super Bowl XLI, which was played in driving rain storm in Miami on Feb. 4, 2007, featuring the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears.

The Levi's Stadium playing surface came under scrutiny when CBS-TV reported players on the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers were changing cleats in the first quarter. Afterward, Denver defensive backs Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward were critical of the sod. Talib said the footing was “terrible.” Ward said the grass was “slippery.”

[RELATED: Aqib Talib: Levi's Stadium turf 'was terrible' for Super Bowl]

“Sometimes these players are hard-headed,” Toma said. “They won’t change their cleats and their play suffers. We gave the players the best playing field, a safe playing field. The cheapest insurance for an athlete from Pop Warner to the NFL is a good, safe playing field. And we try to give the fans in the stands and the fans on TV a thing of beauty.

“I know there’s a lot of controversy, but the field played excellent. But the two players that (complained), all they had to do was their change cleats.”

Super Bowl MVP Von Miller changed his cleats. Afterward, he remarked, “It was a great field.” And Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who was on the losing side, described the surface as "outstanding.”

West Coast Turf supplied the sod that consisted of a blend of hybrid bermuda and rye, grown at its Northern California facility in Livingston. The grass was shipped to Levi’s Stadium, where the NFL took control of the field preparations a month before kickoff.

Before the game and at halftime, a grounds crew of more than 20 members were seen on the field with buckets to pick up small pieces of loose grass. Toma said there were no divots on the field. He said the crew was performing was standard cosmetic maintenance.

“What people saw us picking up was the grass clippings,” he said. “There was young rye grass that never rooted because we really couldn’t get it going because of all the rehearsals.

“No bermuda or any of the established rye grass came up. It was just the young rye grass. We had 32 hours of pre-game and halftime rehearsals. We covered field with a rain tarp and we have a football field painted on it. The field would get covered at 1 o’clock and it would be covered for the next seven hours.”

West Coast Turf’s vice president of sales and marketing John Marman said how the field played for each individual came down to their players’ cleat selection.

“Sometimes guys have to feel it out first, and maybe slip, before they pick up a heavier cleat that’s going to be a little slower,” he said. “Guys want to choose the lightest possible cleat and in some cases they’ll go with a molded cleat and not the deeper type of cleat that’ll be a little heavier and a little slower.”

Marman said the grass is not grown to suit a specific length of cleat because there are so many other facts that determine what’s best for each individual.

“Those things are determined by weather and moisture in the ground,” he said. “You never can tell. It’s on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis. Things change on a field. What may be very playable at noon with a lighter cleat is going to need to be played on with a heavier cleat once the sun sets because the dew starts coming out of the (grass)."

The 49ers had safety issues on the field in each of their first two training camps. Jim Harbaugh pulled his team off the field for one practice session in 2014, and Jim Tomsula altered one practice in 2015 because of the field conditions.

Initially, the problem with the playing surface was the consistency of the sand mixture under the sod. Those problems have been solved, according to team officials. There appeared to be no obvious issues with the playing surface during the 2015 regular season.

“When you hear a couple of guys saying it wasn’t (good ), that’s going to be exposed and picked on a little more because people are kind of waiting in line to say something bad about the field at Levi’s Stadium,” Marman said. “It has a bit of a stigma attached to it. And things have picked up for the better. We were very proud of that field.”

Perhaps the biggest complication with developing a consistent playing surface at Levi's Stadium the abundance of events that are held at the venue that forces the field to be re-sodded multiple times throughout the year. And the lead-up to the 2016 regular season will be no less challenging.

There is a motocross event scheduled for April, a Beyonce concert in May, and four soccer matches in June. And after the 49ers report to training camp, Kenny Chesney and Coldplay have concerts scheduled for Aug. 6 and Sept. 3, respectively.

There is no timetable for when the field used for Super Bowl 50 must be replaced, Marman said. But West Coast Turf now has the capabilities of “recycling” the sod atop a semi-permeable membrane that retains and holds the sand and the root zone, he said. So a field that is removed from Levi’s Stadium can go back to the West Coast Turf facility to regenerate and get stronger before returning to the stadium at a later date.

“It’s not as wasteful and the sod gets better with age,” Marman said.

Marman said a particular phone call he received from a man known as “The Sultan of Sod” far overshadowed a couple of bad reviews from players who did not change their cleats during Sunday’s game. Toma reached out to Marman after the game to compliment his product.

Said Marman, “He personally called me and said, ‘Hey, this field was exceptional and it’s getting a bad rap, and I think it’s wrong.’ ”

Snap count: 49ers' rookie running backs watch the veterans

Snap count: 49ers' rookie running backs watch the veterans

SANTA CLARA – Rookie running backs Joe Williams and Matt Breida have made strong bids for roster spots. But on Saturday night, the 49ers wanted to see what the veterans could do.

Williams entered the game late and played only four snaps of offense. He carried once for 1 yard. Another designed run play was aborted when a Denver Broncos defensive lineman got into the backfield so quickly he forced a fumble before the handoff could occur.

Breida, an undrafted rookie from Georgia Southern, did not see any snaps on offense in the 49ers’ 33-14 loss to the Denver Broncos at Levi’s Stadium.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said the plan all along was for Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs to see a lot of action after neither played in the exhibition opener.

“We’re trying to give them a chance to compete,” Shanahan said. “We see it in practice each day, but in games you want to see what guys do breaking through those arm tackles and see how they perform.

“We have a tough competition at back. If you rotate them every series, you don’t really give anyone a chance to show what they are. We try to do it that way. I’ve really tried to do it that way my entire career. You try to select which games you’re going to try to give guys a number of carries, so you have enough when it’s all said and done after four to try to make a decision.”

The 49ers’ run game was non-existent against the Broncos. Starter Carlos Hyde gained 26 yards on eight attempts. Bibbs managed 6 yards on four carries, while Hightower was thrown for minus-1 yard on three rushes.

In the exhibition opener last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, Williams gained 60 yards on seven carries, while Breida rushed for 40 yards on 11 tries. Raheem Mostert, the 49ers' leading rusher (15 carries, 89 yards) in the exhibition opener, was limited to just four plays on special teams.

Here is a look at the 49ers’ playing time on offense, defense and special teams:

Quarterback – *Brian Hoyer 24, C.J. Beathard 20, Matt Barkley 4
Running back – *Carlos Hyde 20, Tim Hightower 14, Kapri Bibbs 10, *Kyle Juszczyk 6, Tyler McCloskey 5, Joe Williams 4
Wide receiver – Louis Murphy 23, *Marquise Goodwin 18, Kendrick Bourne 15, Jeremy Kerley 13, Aldrick Robinson 13, Victor Bolden 12, Trent Taylor 11, *Pierre Garçon 10, DeAndre Carter 5
Tight end – George Kittle 22, Garrett Celek 12, Logan Paulsen 10, *Vance McDonald 9, Blake Bell 5, Cole Hikutini 3
Offensive line – Erik Magnuson 25, *Trent Brown 24, *Zane Beadles 23, *Daniel Kilgore 23, *Brandon Fusco 23, *Joe Staley 23, JP Flynn 21, Tim Barnes 21, Garry Gilliam 21, John Theus 20, Darrell Williams 4, Norman Price 4, Andrew Lauderdale 4, Andrew Gardner 4

Defensive line – D.J. Jones 38, Leger Douzable 36, Pita Taumoepenu 31, *Chris Jones 30, Quinton Dial 23, *Arik Armstead 23, *Earl Mitchell 19, Solomon Thomas 16, *Tank Carradine 15, Noble Nwachukwu 15, Elvis Dumervil 8
Linebacker – Dekoda Watson 33, Brock Coyle 30, Ray-Ray Armstrong 30, Ahmad Brooks 30, *Eli Harold 23, *Reuben Foster 23, *NaVorro Bowman 23, Shayne Skov 22, Alex Calitro 21
Cornerback – Asa Jackson 40, Ahkello Witherspoon 39, Keith Reaser 30, Will Davis 22, *Dontae Johnson 20, *Rashard Robinson 20, K’Waun Williams 11
Safety – *Lorenzo Jerome 37, Jaquiski Tartt 33, *Eric Reid 23, Don Jones 22, Vinnie Sunseri 19, Adrian Colbert 19
* -- Starter

D.Jones 18, Bell 17, Taumoepenu 17, DeAndre Smelter 16, Jerome 16, Celek 11, Watson 11, Coyle 10, Sunseri 10, Armstrong 10, Skov 9, C.Jones 9, Tartt 9, Bradley Pinion 8, Calitro 8, Colbert 8, Paulsen 8, Jackson 8, Kyle Nelson 7, Bolden 7, Bibbs 6, Witherspoon 6, Reaser 5, Dial 5, Davis 5, Raheem Mostert 4, Harold 4, Carter 4, Johnson 4, D.Williams 4, D.J. Jones 4, Robbie Gould 3, Robinson 3, J.Williams 3, Flynn 3, Douzable 3, Carradine 3, Nwachukwu 2, Price 2, Taylor 2, Kerley 2, Barnes 2, Theus 2, Magnuson 2, McCloskey 2, Armstrong 2, Foster 2, Reid 2, Bowman 2, Mitchell 2, Nick Rose 1, Matt Breida 1, Tim Patrick 1, Thomas 1, Bourne 1, Lauderdale 1, Brooks 1

QB Nick Mullens, WR Aaron Burbridge, DB Will Redmond, DB Jimmie Ward, DB Prince Charles Iworah, LB Sean Porter, LB Aaron Lynch, G Joshua Garnett, DL Ronald Blair, DL DeForest Buckner

Potential big play slips from Hoyer's grasp during preseason loss to Broncos

Potential big play slips from Hoyer's grasp during preseason loss to Broncos

SANTA CLARA – Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw the ball well enough to impress the Denver Broncos’ defensive backs during the 49ers’ two joint practices.

While he hit most of his passes on Saturday night, it was one that slipped away that summarized the 49ers’ 33-14 loss to the Broncos in the second exhibition game for both teams.

Hoyer had plenty of time to throw and saw a potential big play unfolding as he started to throw to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. But the ball popped out of Hoyer’s right hand as he began to throw.

“I was getting ready to rip it to Kerley,” Hoyer said. “He had a double-move route, and I thought he was going to win. I went to throw it. And I was going to throw it hard, and literally, I think my arm even went forward and I was looking around, ‘What happened to the ball?' "

The ball ended up loose on the ground, where Broncos defensive lineman Shelby Harris recovered.

“My quarterbacks coach asked me, ‘When’s the last time that happened to you?’ Hoyer said. “Maybe a few years ago in practice, that happened one time. I never had that happen in a game. It’s the worst feeling. You go to throw the ball and you’re looking, and all of a sudden, you look around and you have no idea where it is.”

Hoyer and the 49ers passing game was sharp during two practice sessions with the Broncos during the week, prompting All-Pro defensive backs Aqib Talib and Chris Harris to praise the Hoyer, as well as coach Kyle Shanahan's offense.

Hoyer completed 8 of 11 pass attempts for 89 yards under the lights of Levi's Stadium. He threw an interception when 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin juggled the ball and Denver defensive back Chris Lewis-Harris wrestled the ball away from him as they tumbled to the ground.

“There weren’t any reads on his 11 attempts that I was upset with,” Shanahan said of Hoyer.

“(On) his pick, Marquise has to catch that ball. He threw it to him. That keeps the drive alive. He just didn’t catch it clean and the DB made a good play. I wish Brian could’ve played longer to get a chance to get into some sort of rhythm.”

In the game, the 49ers committed 11 penalties for 86 yards and turned the ball over five times. Denver scored 27 points off those turnovers.

“I don’t think any of us should be pleased right now,” Hoyer said. “When you put the defense in that situation, regardless of whether it’s a regular-season game or a preseason game, you should feel displeased with the performance.”