Ravens praise new surface

BALTIMORE - In a mock game intended to be a dress rehearsal for their actual preseason opener, the Baltimore Ravens christened their new artificial surface.<p> Comprised of synthetic blades of grass, sand and silica, the Momentum Turf System by Sportexe is spongy and uniform, according to players and coaches who tested it Saturday morning at M&T Bank Stadium.<p> There were relatively few complaints about the surface during the club's annual fan appreciation day. Mostly, it was praised.<p>

Except for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware noting how tiny, black pieces of rubber and sand fly into his helmet once he hits the ground.

"It's not bad at all, it'll work," Boulware said. "We can win games on anything. The old grass was pretty bad come November and December. "The worst thing about it is how the dirt, sand and rubber gets everywhere, in your eyes, your ears, your nose. That's kind of annoying."

Ravens coach Brian Billick noted how hot the surface gets with the unforgiving sun trapping the August temperatures against the rubber. From afar, the field resembles real grass except for the lack of patches for an increased aesthetic appeal.

This casual workout was in shells. The Ravens are set to play some real football when they open the preseason here next Saturday night against the Buffalo Bills.

"It's great to be out on the surface," Billick said. "I think it played very well. I think the players will enjoy it and like the consistency of it.

"Where we're really going to like it is in November, December and January. That's what this surface is all about."

Equipment manager Ed Carroll said larger players such as offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden experimented with several pairs of cleats to see which length of cleats would give them the best footing.

"I didn't see any slipping at all," Carroll said. "Certainly, no divoting like you see with the grass."

The Ravens said they installed the surface, which one ill-advised fan attempted to carve a slice out of during an autograph session before being stopped by authorities, as a cost-cutting measure. Previously, the team was constantly purchasing expensive sod.

The purple team bested the white squad, 14-7, before 14,431 with the marching band and cheerleaders performing.

Taking a page from last summer's camp emergence, reserve safety Will Demps read quarterback Chris Redman's eyes for a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter for the white team's lone score.

Redman later chucked it to tight end Terry Jones on a 2-yard pass for the game-winning points. "I'm sure there are maybe faster carpets in the league with tighter lines and shorter blades of grass for a faster field," running backs coach Matt Simon said. "What I like are consistent surfaces. This is consistent."

Ten families were selected at the Friday night scrimmage in Westminster to spend the night on the turf in sleeping bags with meals furnished by the team.

"It was nice and soft to sleep on," said Levy Silverio of White Marsh. "It got a little cold and the trains woke us up a few times. It was cool."

Rookie quarterback Kyle Boller, a first-round pick, threw an interception to Chris McAlister on a go route and found linebacker Ray Lewis on another errant pass.

"I wish I had a couple of those back," Boller said. "Ray was watching me the whole time. On the go route, I just threw it up there for grabs. I'll get better."

Rookie outside linebacker Terrell Suggs continually sprinted past offensive tackle Lawrence Smith on upfield pass rushes.

"He's a hell of a talent," Billick said. "If that can show up in pads, we're going to be pretty good."

Suggs didn't have a number on his purple jersey as teammates took away his No. 55, further punishment for holding out.

"There's definitely more to come," Suggs said. "They're making me feel real welcome."

Kicker Matt Stover converted field goals from 20 and 34 yards. Yet, he missed a short attempt at the end of the game when his cleats got stuck in the turf.

"I'm still getting used to it," Stover said. "Yes, it's different, but, trust me, this is much better for us in the long run."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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