49ers hold 1st camp practice at Levi’s Stadium
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Colin Kaepernick cradled his eight-month-old nephew, Ezekiel, in his arms, then lifted the infant into the air, gently bouncing him up and down.
A few feet away, Bruce Miller bumped fists with fans draped over the first row of seats. And Vernon Davis flashed a megawatt smile, pointing playfully at the legion of fans chanting his name.
The San Francisco 49ers are getting ready for their new house of energy and emotion.
The team conducted its first training camp practice at Levi’s Stadium on Monday afternoon, getting familiar not only with its new home field, but also thousands of fans who flocked to the stadium for a public practice and then got an opportunity to mingle with players afterward.
An allotted total of 10,000 tickets were distributed for the practice through an internet lottery, and with fans cheering and a sound system blaring, the 49ers already were feeling right at home.
“As soon as I stepped foot out there, they were playing music, and I just got to dancing and everything,” wide receiver Quinton Patton said. “It felt pretty good.”
The 49ers have been practicing all summer next door at their team complex, watching the finishing touches being put on the $1.2 billion stadium that will replace Candlestick Park in San Francisco, where the team has played its home games since 1971.
They were eager to finally get action on the new field in advance of their preseason opener on Thursday against the Ravens in Baltimore. The 49ers christen Levi’s Stadium with their preseason opener against the Denver Broncos on Aug. 17.
“It was really the first experience that all of us got to step on the field, and I feel like we had fun with it, especially with the fans being there,” cornerback Chris Cook said. “They give you that little bit of extra energy that you don’t always have every day out there. Just to hear them cheering us motivates us, and it gives you a good feel of how it’s going to be.”
The 68,500-seat facility features HD 13 video boards on the north and south ends that each measure 200 feet by 48 feet, giving fans not only prime vantage points of the action, but also replays of the action.
Like other players, Cook often found himself looking up at the towering video screens. He had a better reason to do so than most, after leaping in front of receivers to make two interceptions on long passes during team drills.
Cook spent most of the day practicing with the first-team defense as projected starting cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock both sat out with minor ailments.
“Yeah, I looked up there a few times to see if I was going to be on there,” Cook said. “Especially after I caught those two picks. It’s always fun to be on the big screen, especially when you’re doing something good.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh used the session to get his players acclimated to the atmosphere and new playing conditions.
He had his team ease into practice on a field that features different traction than the team’s three practice fields some 100 yards to the east.
“New grass surface, and we want our guys to get their feet under them,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what we have to get used to. The way we were used to Candlestick, the grass there, the sight lines, sun angles, the surface, the environment, the way the wind blows, what the flags do. We’ve got to get used to it all.”
Harbaugh would also like to get used to the comfort of a home crowd that began to fester during Monday’s practice.
Harbaugh quickly grew to appreciate the home-field advantage the 49ers had at Candlestick while he became the first coach in NFL history to guide his team to a conference championship game in each of his first three seasons as coach.
“You want to mark your territory,” Harbaugh said. “We want to do that. We don’t want to look at it as just a possibility, we want to make it a home-field advantage. I think we have the players to do that. We’ve always counted on our crowd to be behind us and they always are. Hopefully we’ll play good and they’re behind us and we’ll do just that, make it a great home-field advantage like Candlestick was.”
Notes: The 49ers signed undrafted rookie free agent RB Glenn Winston to a three-year contract and waived/injured RB Kendall Hunter. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during training camp practice July 25.