Soldier Field

Aaron Rodgers injury makes Bears thankful for Soldier Field grass improvements

The Bears switched to Bermuda grass ahead of the 2022 season

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In the fallout of Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending Achilles injury, the debate about whether NFL teams should all play on grass resurfaced. Things came to a head earlier this week when the players association called on the league to convert all turf fields to natural grass.

The Bears lost Eddie Jackson and Darnell Mooney to season-ending injuries at MetLife Stadium last year– the same field where Rodgers got hurt on Monday– so the big blow to the Jets locker room hit close to home.

“It brought memories back,” said Jackson. “You get kind of frustrated with it. Because I know a lot of players have went down on that field… It was just tough.”

Jackson said “without a doubt” he prefers playing on grass. Mooney played on turf his whole life until he got to the NFL, so he’s used to it and doesn’t mind playing on the artificial surface. However, he’s well aware of the movement to play on grass.

“You hear a lot of complaints about it,” Mooney said.

That said, not all grass is equal. The Bears were notorious for having one of the worst natural surfaces in the league prior to their switch to Bermuda grass in 2022, and Jackson blamed bad grass for an ankle injury he suffered back in 2018.

“My feet kind of got stuck and I rolled my ankle.”

That’s behind the Bears now, and they feel much better with the state of their field.

“It makes you feel good,” Jackson said. “Just to have a good playing surface, you don’t have to worry about those things throughout a game. Your feet are under you. You’re making good breaks. You don’t have to worry about slipping or sliding or your feet getting stuck in the turf. It really makes a huge difference as a player. When you think about it, all the other sports play on one surface. We’re the only ones who play on turf, grass, back and forth. You have to get used to playing on both. And that’s kind of difficult.”

Kicker Cairo Santos previously described the old Soldier Field surface as essentially a giant sand pit. He was thrilled when the team made the change to Bermuda grass last year.

“It’s been awesome to see how much of a difference that has been,” Santos said. “I personally had a few ups and downs last year, but nothing was related to the field.”

According to Santos, kicking in Chicago used to come down to three factors: the wind, the temperature, and the condition of the field. He feels like he’s got a good feel for the wind from all his experience here and has gotten used to the cold. Now the condition of the field doesn’t even enter the equation. With those three factors all figured out, Santos is able to kick with more confidence at home.

Santos personally prefers to kick on turf, since it’s a more even surface, but understands why the players association wants to make the switch to all natural grass fields.

“I think the consensus is that grass is better and safer for them. It feels better on their joints. So if it’s better for them, and they’re the product of our league, then I think kickers will adjust.”

Santos still wants to make sure that grass around the league is held to a high standard.

“Make sure it’s the best grass. Make sure that we replace it every, I would say every three games. Replace the middle part, at least, since that’s the part where most of the play happens, between the hashes. I back that investment overall. It’s better for the product of the NFL.”

Last season, ASM Global, the company contracted by the Chicago Parks District to maintain the field, re-sodded the field several times in consultation with the Bears.

“We all want to see– as much hype as it was– Aaron Rodgers this whole season. We all wanted to watch it. The fans all wanted to watch it. Now we don’t have that. It could have been avoided.”

Santos acknowledged some injuries are bound to happen, and since Rodgers went down on a sack– and did not suffer a non-contact injury– he might’ve been hurt no matter what surface the Jets use. Regardless, Santos supports the change.

“The data has shown that it helps.”

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