The Washington Redskins endured plenty of criticism last year. Some of it was deserved, some completely unfair but perception is often much more powerful than reality.
The organization was marching to their first NFC Eastern Division Championship since 1999 and all anybody could really talk about was the health of Robert Griffin III and the health of the FedExField playing surface. Even after they won the division on an electric Sunday night, the playing conditions after three December home games were a hot button topic. In the aftermath of the Seattle playoff loss, the burning topic of how sloppy the field was and what impact did it have on Robert Griffin's re-injury and Chris Clemons' torn ACL was an enormous national story.
We were all left with many questions, most of which have gone unanswered.
Should the Redskins put in field turf? What can be done? What did you think of the playing conditions? Is the surface safe? These were all questions the media and you were asking and inevitably the answers coming from the man that matters most (Mike Shanahan) was that the conditions were much better at field level than what it appeared to be on television or from a distant eye in the crowd at FedEx.
No matter the reason, no matter the impact both past and present, the Redskins organization took it upon themselves to fix a good amount of the problems. On Tuesday, ESPN 980 received a first-hand look at the progress and the plan that is in place.
Many of the changes won't be noticeable to the naked eye, so in a nutshell over a lunch meeting and tour with several Redskins officials - this is what is going to happen and what has already taken place.
**The Redskins discovered that the "root" of the problem was not the surface itself, but what was underneath. What was under the sod is what they feel provided an untenable situation moving forward.
A senior Redskins official told ESPN 980 that a "layer of silt formed" which prevented water from percolating and to not be able to get to the roots. The problem also did not allow for proper drainage. Silt is described as a mixture of debris, grass clippings and other materials.
The Redskins attacked the problem by excavating the entire field at the base, putting in fresh sand, adding a few extra inches to the sand base, rebuilding the "crown" of the surface and adding new drainage mechanisms along the sidelines. The organization last performed a major field renovation four years ago.
Behind the Redskins' and visitors' benches, there are now two strips of cement walkways in spots that used to be just an extension of the grass surface during the nice weather, and slippery and dangerous mud during the inclement weather periods. One of the strips of cement will actually go under the "dream seats" as the Redskins call them and has new drainage vents.
On the strip of cement (which will be rubberized) closest to the field, another underground drainage line or system will allow for sufficient drainage (this sits on the field side of the path) and will prevent the sideline areas that players stand on and team personnel walk and run on, from being an absolute quagmire.
***On June 5th, the Redskins per team officials, will lay down a brand new complete surface that they are currently raising on the eastern shore of Maryland. The Redskins are even using a different type of sod going from the old "Tif Sport" to a new sod they called "Latitude 36" which has been tested on the east coast under similar weather conditions.
**One other significant step that the Redskins are taking for the first time in the history of FedExField is that they are doing a complete re-sod of the middle of the playing surface directly after the November 3rd home game against the San Diego Chargers. The re-sod procedure will include the areas from the "bottom of the numbers" on each side of the field spanning the entire length of the field from end zone to end zone.
**Redskins team officials compared the planned improvements to what you see (or don't see) in December & January in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field. However as @HTTR24_7 and others point out on twitter, the Eagles use a different type of surface called "Desso Grassmaster." Another interesting fact is that, for the first time in several years, no college football games are scheduled to be held at FedExField and while a soccer game will probably be added to the schedule, the facility will be preserved for Redskins home games.
***The Redskins have not renovated the base of the surface in four years, and they have never re-sodded the field as they will do this year, which they feel will give them the best chance to provide a world-class surface for a championship contender. As one official told ESPN 980, "We want to be the best in everything we do. We have to provide the best surface we can. We're always trying to be the best."
**As for field turf - it's not happening. Mike Shanahan doesn't like it, and that's really all that matters. Redskins officials insist that they made this decision on their own, and not because they were forced to do so. One said "this is our decision, there was no mandate. Nobody's called us."
**Another item of interest - for the critics that blasted the Redskins for the putrid field conditions late last season, team officials say that that the NFL personally inspects and approves every field surface before every game, and essentially certifies the playing field. The league did this on the Thursday before the Seattle playoff game, and had the ability to demand sweeping changes, but did not.
**One last nugget of information that I found interesting - a member of the stadium management team who is very involved in the building of the Redskins' new training facility in Richmond, Virginia says the fields are being built in Richmond with the same exact specifications and 'crown' as FedExField has. Why? Mike Shanahan believes that if players are practicing and playing on different surfaces with opposite dimensions, the timing and rhythm of say a quarterback and wide receiver can be affected. He wants it the same exact way.
That, along with the refusal to go with field turf, should give you another few examples of not only who is really in charge, but also how deep the head coach's thought process into winning football goes. The Redskins management team feels that they are taking steps every day and every year, to make the organization the best it can be on the field and off the field.