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

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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.’ ”

49ers 'ecstatic' with first-day haul in the 2017 NFL Draft

49ers 'ecstatic' with first-day haul in the 2017 NFL Draft

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers began Thursday with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.

When his first day as 49ers general manager reached its conclusion, John Lynch had selected two of the three top players on his draft board and picked up additional third-round picks for this year and next year.

After Myles Garrett, the 49ers’ top-rated prospect, was the Cleveland Browns’ selection at No. 1 overall, the 49ers traded back one spot with the Chicago Bears. The 49ers still got their No. 2-rated prospect, Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.

The 49ers started making calls to teams with selections in the teens, according to coach Kyle Shanahan, to inquire about trading up for Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. The 49ers finally worked out a deal with the Seattle Seahawks to move up three spots to No. 31.

The 49ers selected Foster one spot ahead of the New Orleans Saints, who were apparently ready to select Foster with the No. 32 pick.

Said Lynch, "Reuben thought that because we were at 34, we made a trade at the end with Seattle and when I was talking to him, he said, ‘Coach, New Orleans is taking me.' And I said, ‘No, we’re taking you.’ It was hard because it happened late in the process and so, he was really excited when he found out that we had pulled off that trade and we were certainly very excited.”

And all the 49ers gave up to make the necessary move was a fourth-round pick acquired from the Bears earlier in the day.

The 49ers got everything the could have ever wanted from Day 1 of the draft.

“In terms of how we rated them, we got two of our top three players,” Lynch said. “We’re thrilled. We’re ecstatic. I think these guys have traits that encompass what we want to be about as a football organization.”

Lynch said he began speaking with Bears general manager Ryan Pace more than a week ago. Because the 49ers had picks scheduled next to the Bears in every round, Pace suggested to Lynch that the two teams should be willing to work with each other throughout the draft.

The 49ers had other offers for the No. 2 pick, Lynch said. A source told NBC Sports Bay Area just prior to the start of the draft that the 49ers had fielded three solid offers.

The team’s chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe worked out the details to finalize the trade with the Bears.

The 49ers did not know which player the Bears were targeting at No. 2, but Shanahan voiced his opinion while the trade was going down.

“This guy is a pretty bright,” Lynch said of Shanahan. “He said, ‘That’s not for a defensive lineman. That’s for a quarterback.’ And he was right.”

The Bears made the trade to select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick. In order for the Bears to trade up one spot, they delivered the 49ers a third-round pick (No. 67), a fourth-round pick (No. 111) and a third-round pick next year.

Jacksonville executive Tom Coughlin, whose team held the No. 4 pick, watched and admired the 49ers' move from afar. 

"To get what you had in mind right off the bat and pick up those extra picks? Pretty nice deal," Coughlin told Jacksonville reporters. "I’ve never seen one of those. . . Oh, my gosh. Nothing like that has ever come my way.”

When asked if the 49ers would have selected Foster if the Bears selected Thomas, Lynch said, “Perhaps. It was very likely.”

Instead, the 49ers waited and waited and waited before finding a trade partner in an unlikely place. The 49ers made a deal with Seattle, giving up the 111th pick obtained from Chicago, to select Foster before the Saints had a chance.

“He’s my kind of player,” Lynch said of Foster. “He plays sideline to sideline, and he’ll hit anything that moves. I think that’s contagious for teammates.”

Foster is recovering from shoulder surgery and his stock was negatively affected by character concerns. He was sent home from the NFL scouting combine after an argument with a hospital worker during his medical check. He also had a positive drug test due to a diluted urine sample.

Lynch spent a lot of time with Foster during his visit to Santa Clara, as well as a meeting him at the combine. Both Lynch and Shanahan spoke regularly with Foster on the phone and on FaceTime in the past few weeks.

The 49ers also dispatched vice president of football affairs Keena Turner and team chaplain Earl Smith to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to meet with Foster for two days. The team will have a plan in place to help guide Foster as he transitions to professional football, Lynch said.

“I would tell you that his character is what drew us to him,” Lynch said. “When you start talking football with this young man, he lights up a room. He’s a good kid. I believe in the kid. I think he’ll be a great player for this organization for a long time.”

What we really learned from day one of the 2017 NFL Draft

What we really learned from day one of the 2017 NFL Draft

So after one day of the NFL Draft, we know the following:
 
1.        Roger Goodell could be booed on the surface of the sun, and if you don’t think so, let’s all agree to give that thesis a try.
 
2.        The Oakland Raiders have invested a lot in Gareon Conley’s word.
 
3.        John Lynch is either a swindler, or he was presented with a deal that only an idiot could refuse.
 
Let’s do Goodell first. He was booed lustily and often by the huge Philadelphia crowd, and though he would be booed anywhere (and he half-heartedly asked for more with a smile that looked more like a dog sticking his head out of a speeding car window), Philadelphia booing causes osteoporosis.
 
Next, we go to the Raiders, who used the 24th pick in the draft to take Conley, the secondary man from Ohio State who is being investigated for rape. Conley has maintained his innocence, putting out a statement denying all the accusations, and TMZ claims to have a video that calls into question the woman’s story. In other words, nobody can be sure of anything quite yet.
 
Except the Raiders seemed sure enough to take him, and general manager Reggie McKenzie said the team investigated him and the incident thoroughly. In short, given Mark Davis’ stated opposition to employing players involved in violence against women, McKenzie better be right, and close enough to right to assuage any misgivings Davis or the customer base might have.
 
As far as Conley the player, check back with us in at least two years.
 
Finally, there is Lynch, who squeezed (or was amazingly offered) three picks from Chicago Bears’ general manager Ryan Pace in exchange for one place in the draft. Pace, who was immediately described by Wikipedia as “the soon-to-be former general manager,” took North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, whom the 49ers had little interest in.
 
In other words, Lynch either pulled a fast one, or had a fast one handed to him. Either way, the 49ers got Solomon Thomas, the defensive lineman from Stanford they had long coveted, plus a third-round pick tomorrow, one next year and one in the fourth round that they helped spin into Reuben Foster, the Alabama linebacker who fell from much loftier draft positions apparently because of shoulder concerns.
 
In short, McKenzie got a much-needed secondary man who might end up being more trouble legally than he is worth athletically (though the level of doubt here is sufficient to jump to no conclusions quite yet), and Lynch won a reputation as the young Billy The Kid, smiling precociously while he robs you at gunpoint.
 
Time will tell whether he also gets to be called a great talent evaluator, but for the moment, don’t ask him to hold your wallet. That, kids, is the highest compliment a general manager can receive on the first night of his first NFL Draft.