The Ravens are putting finishing touches on the new turf at M&T Bank Stadium this week, which means the team will stay with an artificial surface for the foreseeable future.
This SportExe field, which features 1billion blades of green synthetic fibers with a base of sand and granular rubber, is essentially the same as the highly rated one that has been in place for seven years. The older turf had begun to lose its softness, which led to the team's installing its first new field since it changed from grass in 2003.
Team officials thought about a possible switch back to grass, but the overwhelming sentiment was to continue with the artificial surface, which should last 10 years.
"Given where our stadium is and given the relatively cold climate, we think we're much better having an artificial field and we've been very pleased with SportExe," team president Dick Cass said.
The Ravens' playing surface has been rated among the best in NFL Players Association surveys, ranking in the top seven in the past three player polls (No. 6 in 2004 and No. 7 in 2006 and 2008). Their worst rating (No. 10) came during their final seasons with a grass field.
Cass explained that the Ravens have problems growing grass because the layout of M&T Bank Stadium doesn't allow the sun to reach the entire field. Toward the end of the year, the Ravens would be playing on "packed dirt," Cass said.
Still, in the latest players' poll, a majority of Ravens preferred to play on grass.
"Turf fields in general are better than the old turf fields, but there's nothing like grass," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. Grass "is harder to maintain. I think it's more difficult for a reason — because it's safer."
The safety issue came into question last season, when three players (Ravens cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb as well as Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith) were lost for the season after tearing knee ligaments without being hit.
Webb said his injury was not caused by the turf but said the artificial surface did play a role with Smith. Washington isn't sure whether the turf was a factor in his tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
"I think [the turf at M&T Bank Stadium is] one of the best. I've never had a problem with it," Washington said. "Your footing is good at our stadium, but sometimes it's too good. Sometimes it won't give. But I think it's definitely one of the best. I've never had a problem other than this injury. So I can continue playing on it, but any NFL player is all for natural grass."
The players, though, don't always prefer a natural surface. The grass field at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field is generally rated among the worst in the NFL.
In the latest poll, 31.8 percent of Ravens players rated their home field as excellent. No one rated it as poor.
Installing the new turf cost about $1 million, according to head groundskeeper Don Follett. A grass field would have cost $500,000, but the maintenance would have pushed the price tag over $1 million.
"Our goal is to have the safest, most consistent playing surface in the NFL, and we believe we have it with 'Momentum 51,'" Cass said.
"It's a fine line. I remember toward the end of the season how bad the grass gets here, as well," said tight end Todd Heap, one of the few players who remember the Ravens' grass field. "If you have other people playing on our field, it's hard for the grounds crew to keep up with it. It's just a matter of knowing how to play on it."
One difference in the new field is that it won't have Ravens logos stitched into the end zones or midfield. That will allow the stadium crew to paint in any logo for special events, such as the NCAA lacrosse championships, college football games and high school football games.
A grass field would not hold up if multiple games were played at M&T Bank Stadium, team officials said.
"This will give us an opportunity to be a lot more flexible with events that might come to this stadium in the future," said Roy Sommerhof, the Ravens' vice president of stadium operations. "Those events may not be able to play here if we didn't have a surface like this."
Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article