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Texans prepare for first home game on artificial turf

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The Houston TexansJ.J. Watt heard that his coach said the team would play in a parking lot if that’s the surface they were provided.

“I’d have some objections if we were playing in a parking lot,” Watt said, to laughter. “But the turf, grass, doesn’t matter to me.”

Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be historic. It will be the first NFL game played at NRG Stadium on artificial turf. The Texans have replaced their system of natural grass brought in on square trays with AstroTurf.

“I’m pretty sure some of them are [fine with it]; I’m pretty sure some of them may struggle,” receiver Nate Washington said. “It just depends on your body. It depends on what year you’re in. It depends on how you prepare yourself. There’s a lot of things that come into play when you’re dealing with turf vs. grass fields.”

The change in Houston came after the surface used in the Texans’ season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs was especially uneven. The Chiefs complained about it, as many before them have, and the Texans decided the surface wasn’t consistent. In the interest of player safety, they made the switch starting Monday, and the field was finished for inspection Thursday.

AstroTurf is an appropriate surface at NRG, given the company was created to solve a field problem at the adjacent Astrodome. It’s a convertible system that can be switched out with another field in as little as seven hours by rolling it up in 59 15-foot-wide panels.

The Texans might return to natural grass in the future, but maintaining that surface indoors is a difficult proposition. The Arizona Cardinals are now the only team with an indoor stadium that uses real grass. Theirs rolls out on tracks through a door that swings up on one end of the stadium.

Most warm-weather outdoor stadiums do fine with real grass. In colder climates, several teams have switched to synthetic fields lately. The New England Patriots did it in 2006. The Baltimore Ravens switched in 2003. This season, the Denver Broncos switched from a natural/artificial blend to all artificial. The Texans and St. Louis Rams are the only NFL teams using the AstroTurf brand.

There are drawbacks and benefits to both surfaces. Playing on real grass is easier on players’ joints and skin surfaces. The evenness of artificial turf will likely make players more comfortable than the prior field, on which visible seams were common.

Some believe artificial grass makes players faster.

“Never heard of that,” outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney said. “I’m pretty fast anyway. You seen my 40 time?”

Said Watt: “I’m 290 pounds. I’m not that fast to begin with.”

 
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