The Ravens are switching from artificial turf to natural grass at M&T Bank Stadium for the start of the 2016 season.
Team President Dick Cass announced the move Friday and the players and Head Coach John Harbaugh, who already knew the plans, are giving the move a big thumbs up.
"The players really wanted to play on grass and that was a key consideration. The coaches wanted to play on grass," Cass said.
Baltimore had natural grass in the stadium when M&T Bank Stadium opened in 1998, but it didn't work out well.
The field got chewed up during the season and they had trouble keeping it in good condition late in the season due to sunlight restrictions. Starting in early November, sunlight does not reach the Ravens sideline from about the numbers into the bench.
Thus, the Ravens changed to an artificial turf from Sportsexe Momentum Turf for the 2003 season, then replaced that with a newer Shaw Momentum 51 turf before the start of the 2010 season.
Cass said he has long felt that the Ravens' artificial surfaces were the best in the league. The Ravens knew at the end of the season they were going to replace their current surface, and the original plan was to stick with it.
However, the Ravens did more research over the offseason on whether they could maintain a high quality grass field.
They found a different strain of grass, from a sod farm in North Carolina that are a mixture of Burmuda and some rye grass, that they believe will be more robust than what they previously used in the stadium. The Ravens also plan to use artificial light to keep grass growing where the field is shaded.
The team also plans to re-sod the entire field once during the season, and perhaps do parts of it a second time if needed. The team will have two backup fields growing in North Carolina and ready to go when needed.
"There have been a lot of technological advances with the grass from what I'm told," Harbaugh said. "Our grounds people have done a great job of researching it, and they feel like they have the type of grass now that can thrive in there."
Once it was a possibility, the two major factors going forward with natural grass is that it should be better for players' health and that it's befitting Baltimore and the rough-and-tumble AFC North.
Division rivals Pittsburgh and Cleveland both have grass, as well as the two closest NFL teams to Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia. Overall, 17 of the NFL's 32 teams play their home games on grass, except for Green Bay's hybrid field.
"To me, it's Baltimore," Harbaugh said. "It epitomizes what Baltimore is all about, the history of football in Baltimore. To me, a Baltimore football team should be playing on a grass field, ultimately. It's a recognition of that."
Harbaugh was asked if he was the one lobbying for grass.
"I might have," he said with a smile. "I like the grass. I think it's the AFC North, it's the Baltimore Ravens – it just seems right."
The Ravens talked to the players about the move in August to get their take and OK. While the decision did not come as a result of injuries suffered by quarterback Joe Flacco (ACL), wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. (Achilles) and running back Justin Forsett (broken arm), the Ravens do expect it to help keep players healthier.
Cass said M&T Bank Stadium has stacked up very well against other artificial surfaces when it comes to injuries, but there is data that shows there are fewer lower-body injuries when playing on a high-quality natural field compared to artificial.
Cornerback Lardarius Webb suffered both of his ACL tears while changing directions at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It's a black and white difference," Webb said, adding that he can feel a difference in his knees when he practices outside on the Ravens' grass field compared to inside on the artificial turf at the Under Armour Performance Center.
"Turf is harder on your body, harder on your joints, harder on your muscles," veteran defensive end Chris Canty said. "It's a higher rate of injury."
In addition to helping with lower-body injuries, tight end Crockett Gillmore said he expects it will help prevent concussions. He estimated that players get more concussions from their head slamming into the hard ground than they do from the actual hit.
"Last week, I hit my head pretty hard on the grass in Cleveland," Gillmore said. "I actually saw my facemask print in the grass. If I hit my head that hard on turf, it would have been lights out for a couple days."
Installing and maintaining a high-quality grass field will be a "significantly greater expense" and come with more maintenance, Cass said.
Cass also said the Ravens are not anticipating eliminating any events they host at the stadium. While there will be concern about the field being torn up, measures will be taken to prevent damage and the Ravens aren't willing to sacrifice those events.
"We'll still have concerts, we'll still have international soccer, we'll have Army-Navy football next year, and we'll try to attract other major college football games," Cass said. "We will still host the two traditional Baltimore City [high school] games."