Ravens refuse to nail down turf as cause of toe injuries

October 05, 2005|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

The artificial turf at M&T Bank Stadium has been unkind to a number of Ravens over the past year. Team officials, though, have no plans to return the favor.

Even though four key players have had toe problems at home since November, the Ravens are sticking with their Sportexe Momentum turf for the foreseeable future, attributing the injuries more to circumstance and footwear rather than surface.

Deion Sanders was the first to go down when he hurt a toe against the Cleveland Browns midway through last season. Sanders missed four games.

Chris McAlister did not miss any games, but he needed offseason surgery after aggravating a toe late in the year, and Kyle Boller is out at least the next two games after he hurt a toe while being sacked in this season's opener. Tony Weaver will miss the next four weeks after he dislocated a toe during the Ravens' goal-line stand in Sunday's 13-3 win over the New York Jets.

This is the third season the Ravens have used the synthetic surface.

"We chart it very carefully based on these surfaces throughout the league, the propensity for a particular type of injury," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Nothing we have seen indicates that there is more of a chance."

Linebacker Peter Boulware also needed offseason toe surgery, but his injury was sustained during practice last year. It is an extraordinary number of players affected by the same issue, but the Ravens say some could not be helped.

"Kyle's, for instance, Kyle's would have happened in a swimming pool. The way that thing got pinned and turned had nothing to do with the turf whatsoever," Billick said.

Despite the seeming increase in foot injuries throughout the league, the new artificial surface remains popular among players, especially the Ravens' field. In the NFL's most recent survey of playing surfaces conducted last year with about 1,300 active players from all teams, M&T Bank Stadium finished sixth best in the league, the second highest for an artificial surface behind Seattle (fifth).

Eleven of the 31 NFL stadiums use synthetic turf, with all basically having the same components of sand, granular rubber and polyethylene fibers that serve as blades of grass.

Shoe companies, though, have been slow to adjust to the relatively new field. This type of turf has completely replaced AstroTurf. Players used sneakers with little to no spikes on that surface, but those are not suitable for the newer field.

"We don't know if it's the turf or if it is the shoes causing [the injuries]," said Carl Francis, the NFL Players Association's director of communications. "But we've suggested to the shoe companies and the turf companies that they work together to build a suitable shoe for the turf."

The shoes, according to Billick, might be the main reason the Ravens have had so many toe problems. The players have been pushing for a lighter, faster shoe with less padding, but those shoes tend not to protect the overall foot as well.

Finding a happy medium is the key.

"The shoe also is a very strong support mechanism for the foot," Billick said. "We've been talking with the people that control that, and I know it's around the league as well. We've got a couple of guys that have changed their shoes in that regard, and it's been very fruitful for them; Chris McAlister for one."

Ravens tight end Darnell Dinkins has twice broken a foot in his four-year career, and he said neither time did he think the turf played a role. Dinkins said the speed of the sport is a big factor.

"I've fractured my foot on grass and on this surface," Dinkins said. "I think it's unfortunate when a person does get hurt, but I don't think you can blame it on any type of surface."

It does stand to reason, however, that if a turf is made primarily with ground-up rubber, it has less give than grass.

"If a surface is harder, you're going to have more toe injuries," kicker Matt Stover said. "But I don't know if this surface is any harder."

The Ravens switched to this turf because the lack of sunlight at M&T Bank Stadium late in the season left the previous grass field in bad condition during games, with chunks of sod coming up and visible patches of dirt. The artificial field has alleviated such problems, though it is not clear if it is helping create another.

"In December it's better because the field is not torn up," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "That's an advantage that you have. But when you talk about how does it feel on your body, for me personally, you can tell it. I can't speak for anybody else, but running around on it, if you practice on it for a couple of days, then you're a little bit more sore than when you're on natural grass. Nothing takes the place of natural grass."

Note -- The Ravens signed defensive end Bernard Thomas to the practice squad and released receiver Fred Stamps.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

Ravens@Lions Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Lions by 1 1/2

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