Houston Texans fans can breathe a sigh of relief after wide receiver Andre Johnson suffered a non-contact injury that appeared at first to be quite serious, but has now been labeled a hamstring issue that could allow him to return to the game.
However, the injury raises questions about the Texans' turf, which has claimed a number of victims over the past few seasons. First, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker tore both his ACL and MCL in 2009. It was a non-contact injury that happened when he was trying to plant his foot, and it ended his season.
Then, last season, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez suffered a high ankle sprain that cost him a number of weeks and set in motion a chain of events that saw him with a number of ankle injuries before succumbing to a torn PCL later in the season.
After Welker's injury, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said that the Texans' grass playing surface was "terrible." He went on to say, "We talk about player safety and hits ...but to me, player safety starts with the surface we play on. When I walked out before the game, I was surprised to see how bad it was. You go from area to area and it's not consistent, that's not what you see (in other stadiums)."
The Texans play on a natural grass field that is under a retractable-roof dome in which the turf is tended out-of-doors on 24 square-foot trays and then rolled in. Belichick noted that this type of grass management is likely to blame for a field that, at the 50-yard line, felt "like a trampoline."
Houston should consider either switching to artificial FieldTurf or finding another solution for natural grass cultivation. The practice of assembling the field, piece by piece, allows for a shoddy field rife with inconsistencies.
We've seen injuries that can be blamed on field conditions time and time again, and Belichick makes an excellent observation in saying that if the league is truly concerned about injury prevention and player safety, that standards for turf maintenance should be part of it.
Perhaps that now the injury has befallen one of their own, the Texans might be more receptive to a change in their field practices.