5-17-01, 6:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Doug Bradley, the keeper of Paul Brown Stadium's grass, believes the bad old days are gone with the help of a synthetic stabilized backing that is the first of it's kind to be used.
Bradley also said a reduced and revised youth football schedule should also help avoid a repeat of last season, when the temporary Bermuda grass field crumbled late in the season and became the object of NFL scrutiny.
Bradley got an assist from Mother Nature, which robbed the Bengals of their original field last year in a drought. This time, it showered the permanent Kentucky bluegrass with good vibes in Thursday afternoon's cloudburst.
After the lightning stopped, workers continued to lay down the 103,000 square feet of sod on a drenched bed of sand and dirt in Paul Brown Stadium as they bid to finish Saturday.
"I'm not going to look until it's all there," said Bengals kicker Neil Rackers. "Then I'm going to kiss it."
Rackers' struggles last season on the temporary field mirrored the frustration of his teammates when they voted it the worst field in the NFL. But Bradley said when this field matures in two or three years, it has the potential to be the best in the nation.
Bradley said last year's field couldn't handle the Nov. 10-12 weekend of 37 youth football games, so the Bengals plan to schedule fewer youth games and play them before the Bengals open the preseason home schedule Aug. 25.
He said the reason the damage was more extensive after the youth games than after a Bengals' game is because the NFL club is on the field for only about three hours, and usually once every two weeks. Bradley said the 37 hours on the field in one weekend during a part of the year the growing season has virtually stopped was too much to overcome.
But Bradley thinks the thickness of the bluegrass and the synthetic backing known as Astrograss will allow the Bengals to host more events when the field matures. He said the sod is tough enough that a concrete cutter had trouble slicing the grass for shipment.
The Astrograss was grown in with the sod and provides a liner that protects the crown of the plant, which is where the grass reproduces.
Bradley says all he needs for the new field to pull through is an average Cincinnati June, July and August when it comes to temperature.
And he's pulling for it to pull through because he wants to show it off Dec. 9. That's when Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin returns with the Jaguars. It was Coughlin who was livid over the condition of the field before, during, and after the Bengals' 17-14 victory last Dec. 17.
Bradley was asked what he thought Coughlin's reaction was when he saw the schedule had him returning to Cincinnati in December.
"He was probably as disappointed as I was because I'd like to redeem myself," said Bradley, who would have liked to have given Coughlin a 70-degree carpet. "But that's OK. He's going to have a nice field when he comes here December 9. It's going to perform well, I think. We'll do a 180-degree turn."
Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon didn't seem to mind last year's mush, although he did say the field on Dec. 17 was "a point away from being gross."
Still, Dillon averaged 5.6 yards per carry in the December home games.
"I don't care if it's concrete," Dillon said.
THIS AND THAT: Quarterback Akili Smith threw some longer passes Thursday in the voluntary workout and although he had some pain in his shoulder, he kept throwing. "I need the reps," he said . . .
Quarterback Jon Kitna, who threw 52 passes to running back Ricky Watters in this offense in Seattle three years ago, predicted Dillon will get at least 40 catches this season.
"The back isn't an afterthought in this offense," Kitna said. "I like his hands. A back doesn't have to have great hands, he just has to catch it and go. But he made a nice catch today on one I threw behind him."