No Reason For Jason Garrett To Put Sean Lee At Mercy of San Fran Turf
Jason Garrett was one of the first players to come out of the tunnel a few hours prior to Dallas’ meeting with the mighty 49ers for the 1994 NFC Championship Game. Instead of a well-groomed field of green, Garrett’s first-ever look at the playing surface of Candlestick Park revealed a mushy, uncertain substance that he could only describe as “kitty litter.”
What Garrett will find a week from today when the Cowboys and 49ers square off on his first visit to Levi’s Stadium is far worse than anything that 16 consecutive days of rain did to Candlestick more than two decades before.
To further compound the rumor that the 49ers don’t have much of a team for 2015 is the undisputable fact that they don’t have much of a field either. Even more dangerous than old Veterans Stadium’s rat-infested locker rooms is a Levi’s Stadium playing surface that is prone to tearing and coming up with the slightest provocation.
Since a venue-opening concert last summer that left the field looking like a moldy piece of swiss cheese, the 49ers have been searching for the proper combination of grass, dirt, and water that will allow for a safe competitive environment. They’ve swapped out Bandera Bermuda grass for a more common Tifway II variety. They’ve overhauled the sand beneath the playing surface.
None of it has worked, as evidenced by the host of problems that plagued the 49ers in early August. Players slipped. Players fell. Practices were stopped, or canceled altogether.
An artificial turf track installed around the playing surface did hold up nicely for a concert on Friday night, which only makes you wonder why the club doesn’t pull a page from Candlestick Park’s early days and install the same turf everywhere. It would be much safer that way.
But as it is, Levi’s Stadium is a season-ending injury waiting to happen. Which brings us back to Garrett and his Cowboys’ preseason visit to the Bay on Sunday night.
Garrett has said more than once during training camp that he believes his most important job as head coach is to get the Cowboys to their Week 1 tilt versus the Giants as healthy a squad as possible. And since both the Jones and York families have yet to mention the possibility of performing the greatest public service of all by canceling their Aug. 23 showdown, Garrett will likely have to take a few precautionary steps to protect certain of his team’s projected starters.
No. 1 on his protection plan should be linebacker Sean Lee. Based upon his track-record, there is an unspoken feeling at Valley Ranch that Lee is going to get hurt at some point during the 2015 season. Missing 34 games over five seasons easily causes such a feeling.
But that’s not to undermine his abilities on the field. We all know Sean Lee can play… until he can’t. Since joining the Cowboys in 2010, Lee has been arguably their best defensive player when on the field, as his 11 interceptions, 374 tackles, 18 pass breakups, and three fumble recoveries attest to.
The Cowboys went to great lengths to get Lee healthy for 2015, and have taken extra steps to ensure that he stays relatively so. Not only have they eased him back from a season-ending ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2014, the Cowboys have also switched his playing position from middle to weak-side linebacker.
In Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme, the weak-side linebacker is given the opportunity to make the most plays, and is usually protected by the defensive line and allowed to roam free. With fewer collisions with big offensive linemen, Garrett and his staff hope to decrease the odds of any major injury befalling Lee for a second consecutive season.
Which makes suiting him up against the 49ers a move most illogical. Let’s face it. Nobody wants to play on that field right now, for obvious reasons. Not even the home team.
Yes, even the 49ers, an organization which has defied all logic this off-season, showed uncommon good sense in moving their practices indoors.
Garrett didn’t see any reason to put Sean Lee at risk on Thursday night against San Diego. Let’s hope that Garrett feels the same way when he sees firsthand the landmine that the Levi’s Stadium field has turned into.