Chicago Sun-Times

Soldier Field playing surface coming under fire from players again

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soldier.jpg

The Soldier Field playing surface looked lousy last Thursday night when the Bears hosted the Cleveland Browns in the preseason finale, and the view from high above the turf in the press box was not deceiving.

It looked bad from the players' perspective, too, but that is nothing new.

Veteran tight end Desmond Clark, entering his seventh year playing home games at Soldier Field, was critical of the field in his blog in an entry titled "Our field is terrible.''

"Let me get all of my negative energy out first. Did you guys take a good look at our field. If you did you had to be disgusted. Lets take a look at some of the things before I make my statement about how I feel. Just assume you didnt read the title of this blog. Last week we played on a field that was immaculate in Denver. We have only played one game at Soldier Field. We are basically the biggest market in the league and I say that because New York is split between two teams. Green Bay has a nice playing surface. It was not always this way until the last couple of years when they revamped it by adding a synthetic grass that is woven in with the real grass. Some of our opponents comments: "yall play on a cow pasture" "this is the [worst] field in the league" "what the hell is going on with this field". These are a few comments that come to mind. What the hell is the park distict of Chi cgo doing when it comes to taking care of this field. They have to resod the whole field before we play Pittsburgh, which will lead to loose turf. Basically, to some it up in a sentence, we have one of the worst fields in the NFL and there are no excuses why the Chicago Bears, of all teams, should have to play on such a bad surface. Thank God preseason is over and here we come Green Bay. Sunday night football, couldnt think of a greater way to start the season"

I say this is nothing new because Bears players hammered the Soldier Field playing surface last year. In a bi-annual survey conducted by the NFL Players Association, 52 Bears players responded and they ranked Soldier Field as the worst natural grass surface in the league. Overall, the leaguewide survey conducted during team meetings between September and November named Soldier Field the fourth-worst grass playing field, ahead of only Pittsburgh, Oakland and Miami.

The 52 players were asked what they attribute the condition of their home game field to. Here is how the responses broke down, according to information provided by the NFLPA:

21 (40.4 percent) replied the grounds crew, which is a joint operation between the team and the Chicago Park District, which runs the stadium.

5 (9.6 percent) replied the stadium manager, which would be the park district.

18 (34.6 percent) replied ownership.

2 (3.8 percent) replied all of the above.

6 (11.5 percent) replied not applicable.

It is significant to point out that the players believe strongly in the work of the club's head groundskeeper Ken Mrock and assistant head groundskeeper John Berta. They scored high marks in the survey as 81.6 percent of the responders to the question said they "strongly valued'' the work of their grounds crew on the game field and practice fields at Halas Hall.

A tripleheader of prep games was played on the field the weekend before the meeting with the Browns. Still, it was surprising that three games would create obvious patches in the surface, and it was evident the crew that painted the field originally put the "C" at the 50-yard line in the wrong spot. A source said after the game Thursday that the field would be re-sodded well before the Sept. 20 home opener vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. Still, the field came under fire late last season when the Bears played three home games in December. That was when it was cold out. Guess what? The Bears have three December home games again this season, and four from Nov. 22 on.

The issue the players are concerned about is safety. They don't want to be playing on a field where footing is an issue. If the survey is an indication, and players would know best, the situation is getting worse after a decent beginning following the reconstruction of the stadium.

Where Soldier Field ranked in NFLPA survey

2008 4th worst grass field
2006 5th worst grass field
2004 18th worst field (there was no distinction between turf and grass prior to 2006)
2002 15th worst field (Memorial Stadium in Champaign)
2000 7th worst
1998 7th worst
1996 9th worst
1994 6th worst

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41 Comments

It is a complete joke. How can the Bears be content about this for SOOOO many years. They put truck loads of their own money in the rennovation of Sodier Field and still can't get a decent surface to play. I've seen HS fields in better shape.

The Bears should seriously consider doing what GB did with their field. I'm not a fan of the synthetic turf but weaving in a mix of this stuff along with natural grass will be a huge upgrade over the crap our Bears play on. It's a mess, looks worse the city streets in the spring.

Go Bears !!

This is unacceptable. With the money these players are worth, let alone the potential cost in wins and losses, getting any injures due to the playing surface is just WRONG. The Bears should sue the city. The Bears were less that smart in sharing revenue with Chicago. They should have pulled out and built their own facility. Maybe we'd ge a new mayor, if the Bears were forced to the suburbs. Oh, but we can host an Olympics!!!! Gimme a break, Chicago can't even provide a first-class football field!

Iwant to see a followup story interviewing head groundskeeper Ken Mrock and assistant head groundskeeper John Berta about why they think the filed is so poor and what can be done about fixing it.

Brad.

I sent you an email early this past summer, asking you to bring this problem forward when there was still time to do something about the terrible playing conditions.

Now, while it is news to some, this article is now just wasted space.

I guess you were too busy learning how to tweet earlier this year instead of writing about this at a time when the attention could have been focused on the problem.

Dear Bears,
Keep whining. The real legends that played before you, (you know the guys that just loved the game), Got paid a helluva lot less for a helluva lot worse conditions. You will have something real to bitch about when the Vikes smack your azz this year. Just keep your focus on the grass though, thats fine. By the way, for the money the players make now, I would play on ASPHALT.

Not worrying about a lawn? You call the playing surface where athlete's are paid millions of dollars to perform at the highest level a lawn?

Like I have said in several comments on these pages, you are the best Bears beat writer in the city. Hands down.

This issue is a big one. HUGE!!!

With key players coming off pulled hamstrings, the last thing they need to worry about is performing tentatively on a sub-standard playing surface.

There's a problem-what's the solution? How does Cleveland manage its field? What are the alternatives? What are the ups and downs of the alternatives? There is probably no easy answer but we can do better.

Yeah, I've been wondering about that. I mean the color of the field is just kind of like, dead grass. My local park used to have turf that looked a lot better.

The new field in Pittsburgh was a nightmare. In fact, just a few years ago, didn't they attempt to re-sod the field, but laid the new turf on to of the old field?

Turn the page to last year, the field looked to be in very good condition, considering the cold environment.

Note to Rockne.... You have probably never played the game. Yes, we would play on just about any surface, for the love of the game.

And for the record, exactly how many games have your Vikings played on real grass up there in the Hump Dome? how many NFL titles do they have.

Hint, same number answers both question...

They should hire me.
When I moved into this house, neighbors all told me to stop bothering with the lawn, nothing would grow there, etc.

Well I've got a beautiful, plush lawn that kids play on every day. And under the trees in the front, I've got grass growing where there never did before.

Hire me. I could grow a lawn on the north side of a wall.

Certainly the condition of the field is a solid issue, but where does one draw the line? When it is raining furiously with high winds or snowing so hard the lines have to constantly be shoveled,should games be called and played later? Should all teams be forced to have a roofed stadium so weather is not a factor? Beautifully maintained fields are great,but there are far more significant factors affecting the outcome of a game or the potential for player injuries. Haven't we heard comments about the advantage of "Bear weather"?
On another note, Neil Hayes' article was really good today. He presented a very astute analysis with solid observations right down the line.

Maybe the Bears should consider clover or crab grass for their playing surface, since they don't care enough to tend to the grass the way it is

Now granted, most people who write or comment on a blog have a sense of self-importance, some rightly so as in columnists, and others not so much, as in all of us "expert" fans (we all know a good amount about football, but certainly not enough for us to be employed in the NFL), but occasionally some of us take ourselves a little too seriously. I give you the "phone messages left for J.A. and most of the coaching staff" as an example, and now we have people criticizing Biggs for not running stories based on our own suggestions. Now I have sent in a couple of suggestions myself to Biggs, and have yet to see one published, but never thought to blame Biggs because his lack of going with my idea resulted in poor field conditions....

This conditions of a 12 month grass field in Chicago has been a problem for decades, which is why the city went to AstroTurf for all those years ('71 until '88). It was not worth the energy, cost, and effort to maintain grass in a cold climate city. Anyone on this blog who sees the rating of the field and is surprised has not been watching Bear games since they came to Soldier Field in '71. The reason the Bears have been a running team for so long is that they know how bad the field gets late in the year, along with the wind, the cold, and potentially the snow. All of this has created the resounding images of Bears football, which is physical, hard-nosed, old-style football. It's really a product of where we play and what those conditions are like. We have a distinct advantage as the offense in running the ball, as we can adapt more easily to the field conditions, because we know where we are going, and the defense has to read and react on crappy fields.

To somehow believe that an article written by a Sun Times columnist will get rid of budgetary constraints, decades of cheapness not only on behalf of the city, but the Bears as well, and a general disinterest in having a state-of-the-art playing surface for any of our sports teams, then to quote Lewis Black, "you are living in a delusion that is so magnificently structured, that most of us can't even fathom the levels you find yourself in."

Don't disagree with your stance, but the thought that we have the power to change this is bordering on silly....Or that you were on target with something that no one else was thinking about...

Kudos to Biggs for handling these things so well in general while I am thinking about it.

As far as the field goes, I would be ok with field-turf. My wife won't let me install it in my entertainment room (something to do with our dogs and an indoor bathroom), but I think it would be an acceptable alternative to the crappy grass we have had for 20+ years. I definitely prefer natural surfaces, but if this is the best we can expect, then I say go artifical. I do not think many injuries can be traced to this turf in Seattle, or in some indoor stadiums, but you can certainly see potential injuries resulting from the poor grass conditions in Soldier Field. The mix of Field-Turf and grass in Lambeau does a nice compromise, but I just wonder how much actual grass is part of the mix, and how often they have to replace sections to deal with dead or dying grass. I got to play a couple of pick-up games on Field Turf at Lindenwood University several years ago in Missouri (my brother played there, so he got permission to play on the field), and for an out-of-shape guy with bad knees, I was very pleased with how the field felt, and how much it was like a natural surface. So while not ideal, we have to consider that it is going to be a crappy grass field no matter what we do every year, as the grass is pretty well dying by November 1st. 4 games at home from November 22nd? We are going to need some help.

Any cold weather city is going to struggle with field conditions in the late season, and as a general rule, it is hard to maintain a healthy grass when 22-200+ lb. men are churning it up every week at the same time. I have 2-60 lb. dogs, and there is not an ounce of grass in my backyard from them playing back there, so I can only imagine how much work it would take for the grounds crew to maintain a healthy grass field.

Out of curiosity, where are the best grass surfaces in the league? If I had to bet, it would be:

Tampa
Miami
Jacksonville
Arizona
San Diego

The main difference between there and here? Grass grows 12 months out of the year in most of those cities, which means it can recover from these games.

Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New England, Chicago...all have problems with natural surfaces. Either we accept it as part of the game, or we move on to artificial surfaces and remove the issue.

Dear mahalatek,

I'll have you know I have played the game and still do play the game, with anybody that wants to play at any given time, sometimes it's HOT, sometimes it's COLD, sometimes it's rainin', snowin',windy,stagnant,humid, and nobody....and I mean nobody complains about the ...GRASS!! For the love of the game Dick Butkus would have taken on a chain link fence in the parkin' lot at Detroit. Todays pro apparently needs a green plush playing surface before kickin' somebodys ass. The grass aint part of the x's and o's buddy. Makes a nice story though, somethin' to blog about. GO VIKES!!

Joe Felicelli, Your post is extremely well-written, but your post is full of holes.

Yes, a cause by one man or author can have an impact.

Budgetary constraints? The cost of maintaining a grass field has far more cost involved than an artificail surface.

Self-importance? The issue is the health concerns of the athletes on the field.

Joe, yea I feel you put that very good, however I do feel that Writer's coumns do effct how the owners or `Lawn Mainenace owners' :)act . I really believe (maybe wrong) that all the negative publicity on the Bears actually helped the Owners etc.. to grab Cutler. I felt maybe they should repair the field, but after reading your comment, I have to agree, the condition of the field is Bears football, cause how can grass be repaired in the winter or even fall, so as crazy as it sounds the field is a direct result of the Windy City's brutal winter/fall and so both demand we are exactly that a running first team. Monsters of The Midway I feel would be a more approprette term. !
I wonder what we will do in the cold @#$ weather (remember home game GB last year - nuff said), now we have a Cutler? That will be an interesting situation. We have the short paasing game down with the running game so we have a head start already.
I do hate the green paint that I see, now thats a joke, leave it brown at least lolol

btw Brad what happened to my story whoyou knows im alwaeys wight!
:)
sorry guys - a lame brando imitation (maybe an e for effort?)
No offense at all Creighton

oh yeah that was a great article by Neil, right on the money!

I felt Beekman did a pretty good job at center

I confess, I've only skimmed some of these replies - but this is inexcusable. I don't think its fair to give anyone a pass on this.

The freakin stadium cost a lot of money and I, silly me, consider the field to be a large part of it. So shouldn't the facility have been constructed to support maintaining a healthy field. The Bears got a sweetheart deal - can't they pony up and pay for any necessary upgrades.

Given this has been a particularly mild summer; how bad would this field look if it had been excessively hot and dry all year? It only took 30 years to get a QB, maybe we can have a quality field in another 30.

I think the Green bay comment is particularly illustrative. Another example of a franchise whose management realize that the fans come first. A team with less money, worse conditions, and a better field. One who goes so far as to have underground heaters and weaves a synthetic into the grass.

It's an embarrassment. Hey, on HD, I bet I can tell the difference between green grass and green paint.

I hate artificial turf. I only played on the old stuff, which felt like a thin carpet over cement, but I like the idea of playing on natural grass.

That said, the issue here is whether a significant number of injuries would be prevented if the Bears switched to either the new type of artificial turf or used a hybrid like Green Bay has. If so, they should switch. It's not right to use the advantage of a playing field in poor condition late in the season if it results in injuries. But if switching would not save a significant number of injuries, leave things as they are. I'd rather see guys slipping and sliding on natural grass than change to artificial turf just to prevent that.

Hey K. Rockne, the great Walter Payton played his WHOLE CAREER in a Soldier Field that had an Astroturf surface.

Go look it up. Soldier Field had Astroturf from 1971 to 1987.

Go ahead and play football on asphalt, just don't expect to have a long life expectancy.

Didnt we have this same argument last year?
kinda like our DE/WR argument we can argue all these bad situations till Da Bears come home.

Since when do/should professional athletes have to prove their toughness by playing on crappy courts/surfaces/courses/whatever? I don't care if Dick Butkus could eat his way through chain mail armor or not, we as Bears fans should not require our team's players to risk shortening their NFL careers from a max of about 12 years to less than that just because we feel they're complaining too much about bad grass.

Risking injury unnecessarily is not a prerequisite of toughness.

Come on Bear football is all about a field that sucks. You gotta love when a player takes a dive and comes up with so much sod caught on his face guard that he can hardly straighten his head,given he has about 40 pounds of mud and grass caught on his helmet.

In the good old days even the cubs used to grow the grass real long so the ground balls could hardly ever make it through the infield.

Dirt, mud, grass, slippin and slidin, YEAH!!!

Man, I sent an email to Monsanto three years ago telling them to invent a genetically modified turf grass that grows green and lush in the winter and stands up to 400 lb giants with spiked shoes shoving each other around, but those SOBs haven't done it yet.

By Ann Arbor Bear on September 7, 2009 8:35 AM
Iwant to see a followup story interviewing head groundskeeper Ken Mrock and assistant head groundskeeper John Berta about why they think the filed is so poor and what can be done about fixing it.

By Brad Biggs on September 7, 2009 8:44 AM
I apologize for not worrying about someone else's lawn other than my own.

Really Brad? You have a ligit podium for sounding off about issues just like this and the best you can do is have a smart a$$ answer fom a concerned fan? Your true colors grow brighter by the article...

Go Bear!

Dear the refs were paidoff,

Thanks for hammerin home my point!! Sweetness, the greatest running back of all time. Still holds the record for most consecutive games played without whinin' bout the grass!! He played on the worst surface ever created for football, All he cared about was WINNING. The spoiled brats of todays game are a bunch of girls, except for my mighty Vikes of course. All Day - All Night. Super Bowl Title coming soon!!

The "Sod Father" is working three miles from Soldier field! Why hasn't anyone called Roger Bossard? He fixed Wrigley, I am sure he can fix Soldier Field too.

Randy I am offended, that was a horrible Brando impersonation, shame on you. Work on it.

As for the field, don't other teams play in cold weather, like I don't know, Denver. They seem to have one of the best fields in football.

You want to fix that field? Then this is what you have to do.

The playing surface at INVESCO Field at Mile High is a 100% natural grass playing field made up of four different Kentucky Bluegrasses. The grass surface is stabilized by a network of polypropylene fibers that were sewn vertically into the sod every 3/4". This process took three weeks, with crews working 24 hours a day. This technology was developed by DD GrassMaster out of Holland, and has been used at over 100 stadiums worldwide.

Underneath the sod is a sand-root zone laid above an extensive drainage and soil heating system. After heavy rain, in a matter of minutes, surface water can be drained with a strong suction system called Sub-Air. The field will be heated during the winter months by a network of 21 miles of underground hot water tubing.

DENVER (AP) - The Denver Broncos will have one of the most technologically advanced natural-grass playing fields in the NFL.
The field of five-blend Kentucky Bluegrass is ready for use. It has four computerized moisture sensors and 10 temperature sensors, as well as a computerized drainage system that sucks away excess water, even during heavy rains. And it conceals 20 miles of water pipes that will keep it at a pleasant 60 degrees year-round.

The most high-tech part about the field is the grass-colored polypropylene fibers injected into about 17 million holes across it. The process is designed to unite the sod with the ground underneath.

That means three of every 100 strands of grass on the field are fake, said Ross Kurcab, the Broncos' turf manager.

The exposed fibers look like grass and are hard to detect from even a few inches away.

You see Randy, I do know everything, and yes I am evil.

We got Cutler from Denver now lets get the field. It really is a shame that the Bears field looks like a s*** stain on a pair of new white fruit of the looms. Soilder field did not have a very pretty rebuilding, but a new field would go a long way in improving the looks of what has become a league eye sore. After all the best team should have the best field. Talk bear football all you want, most teams take pride in there fields. When you are given something good you take good care of it. Taking care of the field is taking care of the team. Not to mention it's a 600 million dollar stadium, the least you could do is put down a decent field, it is going to be on TV, hello 1080p, it looks really bad in high def, it's kind of embarrasing for the team and the city, who the Bears do represent.

Joe I really don't think a new field will take away from Bear football, in fact I think the connection is more than stretch. Plenty of teams come into chicago and Beat the Bears in December, remember the 49ers, we where going to show them what Bear football was all about, they couldn't play in the cold, they didn't have a running game like we did, they where a passing team. They kicked out a**** all up and down the field. But hey we didn't where long sleeves so we showed them. Basically Jow would you rather have the Bears win or not where long sleeves. I vote for winning. You notice Cutler wears sleeves, I guess he is not a Bear.

The Bears ownership could have this new field installed from OCT 5, to NOV 1, and boom problem would be solved. This will not happen and the Bears will put down sod and watch it get ripped up in one game and then just leave it for the rest of the year and blame it on the weather. Break out the green paint.

My question is why don't they do it? The have the time and money, if they really care about the team, then all they need to do is invest in there property for the betterment of the team, and the property itself. It's really win, win. It just makes no sense that they don't want to do it and would rather be cheap and paint the mud green.

To the person who said "tyhe Bears should move to the suburbs", Halas tried that on Richard J. Daley whose answer was, "go aheade, but you'd better not call them the CHICAGO Bears. They're never going to get anything out of the Park District.

As the 'self proclaimed' Bearstradamus, I suggested the playing field be replaced (see #10) on the Trib message board (http://www.topix.net/forum/football-players/brian-urlacher/T7AUVMMO670AR57KH/p2) on December 30, 2008. The same post also appeared in Brad's blog and in the Redeye newspaper

The field looks great to me!!!.......Orton is no longer on it!!!!!GO BEARS!!!!

ahhh.....why don't the bears just use taht rubbery stuff at the playground?? i play on it al teh time ans wehn i fall down id ont get hurt. i rthink its a good idea sense ia allwasys right ans i only give facts.

oh wahts wrong brando/randy/tripper/bublasaur? pretdneing to be other people again looser? i guess youre just mad taht ima smarter you, stronger then you, more successfull and sorry hunny, but dam im sexier than you could ever hopre to be. oh and did i tell you loosers taht i finallt got a job? oh yeah is true. i bet your so jellous brando. im making sooo much money and sooner then later im going to move out of my mons house ans party like a rockstar ans..

McDonalds Manager: Crap-ton! What the hell are you doing? Youre supposed to be working not playing om the internet. Now get over to the fryer and make sure those fries are golden brown!

oh i'm sorry sir...right away sir..i was just getting to it.

ohhh i bet you liked thta BRANDO. you like seeing me take orders from my 16 year olds manmager dont you? well you win this time but i will be back sense ai amallays RIGHT ans i ONOY give FACTS! firt teh bears ans tehn THE WORLD WILLS BE MINEE!!! MWUAH HAHAHAHA!!!!

but you guys now me old crap-tom...just rtring to be posative..

p.s. "i will be outside soilder field in a hot pink panties that say spank me." i hope its not too cold weh we play the stealers!

K.Rockne, wow. Sorry but the Vikings no longer play on grass. At least they, AND Walter Payton played on a RELIABLE and CONSISTENT playing field. You just don't have your head on straight, period. You are missing the point, and just are using this as a forum for your anti-Bears agenda.

The problems IS with the INCONSISTENT CONDITION of the field, NOT that it's grass. Would Walter Payton set all those records if he was playing on slippery grass every home game? NO.

Soldier Field was voted one of the worst grass fields IN THE NFL, not just the complaint of one player.

Mhalatek,
Yes, there is a significant cost involved with moving to an artifical surface, but you pay that major cost one time, and then maintenance is a lot less expensive. Add in that you don't have to water turf, or use fertilizer, or mow the grass all the time, and you have a much lower maintenance cost for an artifical surface.

Anyone know how much it costs to re-sod the field twice a year, which is what we have been doing for several years? We could have paid for Field turf three times over by now...

My jab on the self importance was more at the "I told you to write about it" than the concern over the players' health. I completely agree with you on that issue, but I think we all take ourselves a little too seriously (myself included). I am looking at a quote right now that says:

Blogging: Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few....

Anyway, as passionate as we all are as fans, and as much as we live and die with the Bears, it's still just a chat room about our team...No reason to get all worked up.

The Steelers also have (or had) DD Grassmasters. The Patriots had it too, until they went artificial last year. Both were considered the worst natural fields in the league. And for good reason. Steelers have gone to an all natural surface this year. Doesn't sound like that will make any more difference to them as going to DD Grassmasters would be for the Bears. The Pitt Panthers also play their home games at Heinz and open it up to the high schools in late October for playoffs, playing several games on it in the same weekend. By early November it's nothing but painted dirt. I don't know what Denver does to keep their field so great year round. Last year they had 2 feet of snow dumped on it on a Saturday, and it was cleared and looking great for the Bengals game the next day. The only real difference I can see is that it's more related to heavy use than it is weather, environment, or type of grass. Two years ago the Steelers resodded after the high school games wrapped up and immediately got hit with a monsoon. I'm sure everyone recalls Brandon Fields turning a Miami punt into a diorama of the Hall of Fame. Last year they did it again, but under clear skies, and the field held up reasonably well for the remainder of the season. But we're talking weeks 10-17, not weeks 2-17. Good luck with that.

The Bears should hire Carl Spackler. I understand he has a famous line of grass that you can play on and then smoke later.

Rumor has it that K.Rockne plays two-hand touch on ASPHALT ... Yeah, that's right you biatches ... he is THAT HARD-CORE!!!

// Wait until I call Lovie and tell him Brad didn't report this when some jacka$$ e-mailed him. Boy will heads roll!!
// Oh wait, Brad is a beat reporter who has as much say over Bear operations (and the city of Chicago Park District) as I have over my ex-wife's fertility cycle. Get a GRIP you self-aggrandizing tard buckets!

All,

I recall an article by one of the beat reports a few years when they wrote on the condition of the field. And the Park District said that the Bears had the option of signing a contract that included a clause that the Bears field would be protected from having multiple games on the field prior to a Bears game. (I am not sure of the complete language.) But the Bears management declined because it would have cost more money.

Now it has been easy to bash Bears management as cheap over the years and not without reason. Lately the pro-active signing of players is a positive sign from management. And I have defended management from those who called them cheap.

But if this contract provision is among the true reasons for the poor field than Bears management needs to look in the mirror... and it is not pretty.

Brad, can you confirm that contract provisions between Park District and the Bears.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on September 7, 2009 7:05 AM.

Source: Center Raiola expected to be signed to practice squad was the previous entry in this blog.

Bears fill out practice squad with OT Jim Marten, former 3rd round pick is the next entry in this blog.

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