Steelers Notebook: Natural grass is back at Heinz

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The Steelers and Cardinals played last night on a new surface at Heinz Field that was installed this year. You may have heard the name -- grass, with a lower-case "g." The DDGrassmaster surface that had been used since 2003 was yanked out in January.

Actually, the 100 percent grass sod that was installed is old. The Steelers already had played on the "new" grass in Heinz Field in the AFC championship game in January. That sod had been laid on top of the DDGrassmaster.

After the Steelers' victory against Baltimore in that game, the sod was shipped back to Tuckahoe Turf Farms of New Jersey, where it was nurtured and then shipped back and installed at Heinz Field.

The Steelers played on a purely grass surface in their first two seasons at Heinz Field in 2001 and '02.

One big reason for the change is the field now can be patched with turf late in the season. DDGrassmaster could not be patched, which is why the club laid an entire field of turf over top of it late in the past two seasons.

Parker, Keisel sit out

The Steelers held two starters out -- halfback Willie Parker and defensive end Brett Keisel, both with minor injuries. Parker had back spasms and missed practice this week. Keisel has a calf injury. Rashard Mendenhall started at halfback and Travis Kirschke at right defensive end.

Gruden mans the mic

Jon Gruden made his debut as a color analyst with ESPN's "Monday Night Football" broadcast crew last night. He replaced Tony Kornheiser, joining holdovers Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski in the booth.

Gruden was Mike Tomlin's former boss when Gruden was head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spent some time with his partners in Steelers training camp the past week.

Sepulveda well-received

The loudest ovation from the Heinz Field crowd on the Steelers' first possession came when Daniel Sepulveda punted. His first punt since his rookie season in 2007 boomed 46 yards, resulting in a fair catch by Antrel Rolle on the Arizona 15

Sepulveda, who missed last season due to knee surgery, thumped his half-dozen punts for a 49.5-yard average. The Cardinals returned four of them, for an 8.5-yard average.

Not that Mike Wallace

He carries the same name as a veteran CBS reporter, but if rookie receiver Mike Wallace continues to have nights like this, he may well see a lot of 60-minute Sundays with these Steelers.

Wallace, a third-round pick in April who was chosen for both his returning and receiving skills, received the opening kickoff for a touchback, then had to wait until the second half to truly display his wares.

He caught two Dennis Dixon passes in the third quarter covering 35 yards total, 22 on the longer one. Dixon underthrew a wide-open Wallace on a 43-yard post pattern into the end zone, otherwise he may well have scored the Steelers' first touchdown of the preseason.

Wallace got a kickoff-return chance in the final minutes and brought it back 35 yards.

Familiar faces

"Like an alumni game, without the keg. Kissing babies and hugging friends."

That was how Arizona special teams coach Kevin Spencer kiddingly referred to last night's Heinz Field return of the former Steelers party among the Cardinals, starting from coach Ken Whisenhunt and on down.

"It is weird," Whisenhunt said of returning to a different locker room in a familiar building. "I almost keep walking and go down to the regular locker room."

"It was a weird feeling walking into the other locker room," added fourth-team quarterback Tyler Palko of Pitt and West Allegheny High School.

He was invited by coach Dave Wannstedt, along with fellow Cardinals free agent LaRod Stephens-Howling and Gerald Hayes, to speak to the Panthers at practice on the South Side yesterday.

"It was good to be back," Palko added.


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