Ravens begin tearing up artificial turf at M&T Bank Stadium, expect to plant grass around May 1

With special machinery that sliced up the artificial turf rumbling around at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday morning, the Ravens began what they believe will be a three-month process of returning a natural grass playing surface to the field for the first time since 2002.

Head groundskeeper Don Follett said the multistep sequence will remove all aspects of the Shaw Industries Momentum 51 artificial turf that has been there since 2010, then install a root layer for the new Bermuda grass to grow after it's rolled out around May 1.


"Originally, the stadium here was real grass, so it's not that much more to change it [back]," Follett said. "It's going to be a little bit, but we'll pull up this turf here now. Underneath this turf is about an eight- or nine-inch stone layer that was brought in here for the artificial turf to be on. That stone layer will be pulled out, It'll take about a week to 10 days to pull out that stone layer.

"Then, it'll take about a month to bring back in what we call the root zone. That's the sand, peat moss, dirt mix that will be put on the field. That'll build up to about a 10-inch profile, and we'll install an irrigation system on that. From there, we'll roll out the real grass."

On Thursday, three distinct pieces of machinery began the process. One rolled back and forth across the field, dicing the green carpet that lays on top of the turf into strips. A second machine followed it and essentially vacuumed the strips of the rubber pellets and sand that was used as a cushion in and underneath the turf. A fork-loader carried out the resulting mammoth bags of pellets.

Follett estimated the carpet would be up by tomorrow, with a majority of it sent off to be melted off and recycled back into a new field carpet. Some pieces, however, will be cut up, boxed in commemorative cases, and sold by around the time the preseason begins. Larger pieces could also be available at the annual retail outlet sale, tentatively scheduled for April 30 at M&T Bank Stadium. All proceeds will go to the Ravens Foundation.

Follett said the new grass would come from Carolina Green out of North Carolina, which has supplied the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs recently. New technology since the Ravens moved away from grass have him confident the product will hold up.

New breeds that are better at taking the punishment of football games and the region's difficult weather have helped, as have innovations that bring in artificial light to shaded areas of the stadium that originated in European soccer stadiums and have only recently come to America.

There are also quicker fixes if a field needs to be repaired in-season, Follett said.

"The newer technologies that have just come online in the last three, four, five years is actually growing the sod on plastic so the sod becomes all root-bound," he said.

That process, in which the roots grow down but hit the plastic and are forced back upward into the grass, "makes a very thick, root-bound layer that makes the grass very tough and resilient and really heavy," he said.

Follett said the surface was just last week rolled out to make playable a field surface at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., for the Super Bowl that has taken criticism this season.

"The biggest game in the world will be played on that type of grass," Follett said. "That new technology has made it a lot easier, if you have a damaged field or you have a rain game where the field really gets chewed up, by the time you get to your next game you can actually replace that field with this thicker, grown-up plastic grass that's ready to play. You can roll it out on a Saturday and play it out on Sunday."

The Ravens typically change out their turf every five seasons to maintain what he called the best artificial surface in the NFL, and when the players knew the process was set to begin again in August, they asked about the possibility of a grass surface.

"To a man, the players would rather play on real grass than artificial turf," Follett said.


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