By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Wednesday, Aug. 10 2005

Make no mistake, playing on AstroTurf in the Edward Jones Dome had its
advantages for the Rams.

"It's fast. It's true. Very little slipping and losing your footing while you
were playing," defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said.

The problem was how players felt afterward.

"It was tough. On the knees. On the lower back," Jackson said. "There were
games when I felt like someone had taken a ballpeen hammer and just beat my
legs."

Or as wide receiver Isaac Bruce put it, "You knew exactly when you got an
abrasion. And then when you got in the shower, you knew it was still there. It
took a while for it to heal up, too."

But those days are gone. The Rams broke in their new FieldTurf surface
Wednesday with a two-hour practice at the Dome. They will work out there again
today before opening preseason play in the Dome Friday night against the
Chicago Bears.

"I know my knees will feel a lot better on Mondays, just playing on that
surface and not getting as many 'strawberries' when you fall on the ground,"
offensive tackle Orlando Pace said. "I think it'll help the whole team as far
as knees and injuries."

Wide receivers and running backs made their first cuts, linebackers took on
their first blockers, and offensive linemen anchored in their first pass sets
on the new surface Wednesday.

"It kind of felt weird, trying to break it in," wide receiver Kevin Curtis
said. "It's a new surface, and you're not used to it. But I like the feel of
it.

"I didn't have any problems cutting on it. I felt a little slow a few times
coming in and out of my breaks, but for the most part I don't think it's
slippery at all."

The new FieldTurf surface is much thicker than its AstroTurf predecessor in the
Dome, with longer grass-like fibers.

"It's a whole lot softer; it's a whole lot more forgiving," Bruce said.

But the surface is weighed down with a combination of sand and small rubber
pellets.

"Chewed-up Nike tennis shoes," explained Bruce Sommer, director of facilities
for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. Sommer took in
Wednesday's practice and liked what he saw of the new turf.

"We love it," he said. "It feels real good. It sort of feels softer than the
older turf. And I think it looks more natural. It's a deeper, richer look. I
think the fans are going to like it."

One potential problem, however, is that those bits of sand and "chewed up
Nikes" occasionally can get lodged in players' eyes or mouths, particularly
before a surface is broken in.

"There are a lot of teams that have this, so we've played on it," Curtis said.
"Those little black things, they'll get up in your eye and be in there for half
the game."

The new surface, which was installed earlier this summer, will be in place for
only one season. In essence the Convention and Visitors Commission is renting
the surface for one year at a cost of $168,000.

"What we really want is a removable system," Sommer said. "This one cannot be
removed. At least it can't be removed and put back in. It will come out at the
end of our season, and the company that we got it from, they'll take it back
and they'll resell it, which is why we got a break on the price."

The Convention and Visitors Commission and the Rams are hoping that by next
year at this time, the technology will have advanced enough to install a
permanent turf - one that can be picked up and stored whenever there is a
large, in-season convention in the Dome.

No matter what, the days of playing on the hard AstroTurf surface are over. One
way or another, there will be a FieldTurf, or FieldTurf-type surface in the
Dome.

"Whoever plays on this thing, it's going to help you physically," coach Mike
Martz said. "This was the right thing to do. I'm just very pleased that we were
able to get it done."