BY GEOFF HOBSON
It's four months before The Opener. But the Bengals are preparing for the Mini Opener during next weekend's mini camp when they break in the new practice fields in the shadow of Paul Brown Stadium.
The first official act on Cincinnati's renovated riverfront is tentatively scheduled for Saturday April 29, when the club runs 40-yard sprints on the new artificial turf. Tentative, but fitting, since Paul Brown is credited with creating 40-yard times because the distance simulated punt coverage.
Yet Doug Bradley, head groundskeeper at PB Stadium, figures it's a matter of time on that Saturday before quarterback Akili Smith takes his receivers to romp on the two grass fields. The two practices on Sunday and one on Monday are tentatively set for the grass fields.
It's a big weekend in Bradley's life. It's almost like his baby, born Oct. 16, 1999, when the sod was installed, is going off to college. After all, he has been supplying the three essentials since birth: Air, water and sun. Bradley and three full-time assistants have been part-chemist, part-parent in mixing 17 elements for the beloved carpet.
"A field is never the same once the players step on it," Bradley said. "No one has ever been on them and there's nothing like that. But it's going to be exciting to see the players finally on it. That's why we do what we do."
The Bengals don't have to worry if it's a rainy weekend. Only if it's a storm of biblical proportions. Bradley says water won't appear on top of the grass unless there's more than five inches of rain in an hour. Last Thursday night's storm that dumped an inch in 24 hours was literally a drop in the bucket. Bradley says the Bengals would have had no problem going on the field Friday.
"That's what kills a field," Bradley said. "A guy works his heart out and after the first rain it gets all torn up. Not on this one."
Bradley, 36, a St. Centralia, Mo., native, is used to breaking in hot spots. He's working on three in the past three years. Two years ago as the head groundskeeper at Georgetown (Ky.) College, he installed the turf at Rawlings Stadium for Bengals' training camp. Last year, he did the trick at the University of Louisville's Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
For the first time, Bradley is using a bluegrass mixture. It's called "10-and-4," with 10 inches of sand on top of four inches of gravel. Bradley says the design is for "disease and stress resistance."
"It's sad in a way,'' said Bradley of the first trod on his sod. "But traffic is good for it and it takes two to three years for this kind of field to mature.'
Bradley gets to raise another child soon. The stadum turf is set to be installed in about two weeks.