Football / Sports

49ers begin process of getting Levi's edge

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The 49ers practiced on the grass of Levi's Stadium for the first time Monday, with 10,000 or so fans watching their every move.

The 2 1/2-hour practice represented the 49ers' first step in making Levi's Stadium their own and getting familiar with the natural-grass field, the winds and myriad things casual observers might overlook.

"You want to mark your territory "¦" 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said shortly after the practice ended. "We got to make it a home-field advantage. We have the players to do that."

Creating that edge entails taking stock of the footing, the way the wind blows, where the sun penetrates and what it's like tracking the ball against the backdrop of seats, cement walls and windows.

"That's what we have to get used to, the way we were used to Candlestick," Harbaugh said. "The grass there, the sightlines there, the wind, the sun, angles, all those things."

The 49ers play a game in their new digs Aug. 17, against the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning. That marks the second of the team's four exhibition games.

The 49ers also play at home against the San Diego Chargers on Aug. 24. The first regular-season home game takes place Sept. 14, when the Chicago Bears help the 49ers fully christen the stadium in a Sunday night prime-time game.

Kicker Phil Dawson and punter Andy Lee started getting a feel for the winds and nuances of Levi's Stadium long before Monday, so this was just another opportunity to get better acquainted.

"There's a whole lot of learning that needs to go on," Dawson said. "Those two preseason games are going to be huge in terms of gathering information and trying to come up with a plan."

The learning curve might take all season, Dawson said. He spent his first 14 NFL seasons dealing with the wind, snow and whatever else Mother Nature threw his way in Cleveland.

He signed with the 49ers last offseason and made a seamless transition kicking at Candlestick Park. The early signs are that he's going to have his hands full in the new stadium, too.

"Candlestick swirled a lot, and I'm afraid this one is awfully similar," Dawson said. "You'll be going along and think you kind of got it all figured out, and then something will change. The wind comes and goes."

The 49ers called Candlestick Park home from 1971-2013. For the record, they lost their inaugural game to the Los Angeles Rams, 20-13, on Oct. 10 that year. They defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-24 in their final game at the venerable park Dec. 23.

The new field might not be that big of a deal for first-year 49ers such as wide receiver Stevie Johnson and rookies such as running back Carlos Hyde and safety Jimmie Ward. But veteran 49ers endured enough games on Candlestick Park's waterlogged turf to appreciate the new field.

"It was great," cornerback Perrish Cox said of his first time on the new field. "I was coming out of my breaks really good. I didn't have to put on another pair of cleats. I didn't notice too much wind in there. I like it better here already."

Cox said he oftentimes slipped coming out of his breaks at Candlestick Park, so he had to bring out several pairs of cleats and find one that worked the best.

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