Middle ground is hard to find at Heinz Field

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Pittsburgh playing surface elicits jeers from visitors, cheers from Steelers

December 22, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

Home-field advantage has taken on a literal meaning for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 65,050-seat Heinz Field in Pittsburgh is home to not only the Steelers, but also one of the worst playing surfaces in the NFL.

The turf there is called DD GrassMaster, a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass and polypropylene fibers that are sewn vertically into the sod.

The grass, however, is nonexistent between the hash marks and through the entire length of the field and gives the stadium a sandlot look that seems to contradict the modern appeal the venue was supposed to present when it opened for the 2001 season.

The turf at Heinz Field was ranked as the sixth-worst surface in the league, according to an NFL Players Association poll that surveyed more than 1,500 players and was made public in February 2005.

The Ravens have played there once a year, but this week was the first time players revealed that they haven't warmed up to the turf.

"It's not a good field," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That's no secret. Everybody knows it's a terrible field. The grass is always up. You're playing on plain dirt. You have to deal with it. Bottom line, you just got to go play."

Added coach Brian Billick: "They feel very good about their surface being in the condition that it's in. They feel like that's an advantage, and they play to that advantage. So, [you face] the great crowd and the field and having to be on the road late in the year and all the things that you struggle with on the road. That's why you like to play at home."

The Ravens aren't going to win any sympathy from the Steelers. Coach Bill Cowher is a big advocate of the surface at Heinz Field.

"Both teams are playing on it. I like that stuff. That's what the game should be played on," Cowher told The Tribune Review of Pittsburgh earlier this month. "I think a natural surface is much better. Most players would much rather play on grass than any kind of artificial surface."

Injury update

The Ravens added wide receiver Mark Clayton (chest) to their injury report. He is questionable, as are tight ends Todd Heap (thigh) and Daniel Wilcox (knee/back), left tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe) center Mike Flynn (thigh), wide receiver Derrick Mason (thigh), cornerback Samari Rolle (neck) and safety Gerome Sapp (thigh).

The Steelers downgraded starting safety Ryan Clark (groin) and backup Andre Lott (ankle) to out. Safeties Troy Polamalu (knee) and Mike Logan (hamstring) were upgraded to probable from questionable.

Green on the mend

Fullback Justin Green underwent surgery on the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee a week ago and said doctors have told him that the recovery process will take six to eight months.

"I'm pushing more towards six months," said Green, who used crutches to maneuver around the locker room. "I took care of it, and I'm on the road to recovery."

Although he is aiming to return for minicamps in June, Green conceded that a more realistic target date might be training camp in August.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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