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BILLS HAVING A FIELD DAY ON THEIR NEW ARTIFICIAL TURF

Question: How is the new turf at Ralph Wilson Stadium since the change from AstroTurf? How is it holding up to our area weather? How do the players feel about playing on it as far as traction, footing and cushion is concerned in different weather conditions? -- John Wozniak, Buffalo

Answer: The players like the turf. The initial reaction of almost everyone seems to be: Thank God we don't have to play on the old AstroTurf anymore.

"I'd rather have this than the artificial turf we had before any day," fullback Daimon Shelton said. "I've only had one brush burn with the new turf. With the old stuff the brush burns went down to the white meat. It was pretty nasty."

The skin on players' elbows, forearms and lower legs routinely came off in long stretches on the old turf. The new style of turf is coated with an oil that prevents such injuries.

A company called FieldTurf is the leader in the new industry of artificial grass. The Bills' brand is called AstroPlay, made by the same people who made AstroTurf, and that company went out of business. Baltimore plays on Momentum turf made by Sportexe, a company based in Fonthill, Ont., just 30 minutes from the Peace Bridge.

The Bills played on FieldTurf at Giants Stadium against the New York Jets.

"I don't notice any difference," running back Joe Burns said. "It's just a whole lot better than regular turf. I'd say the length of the grass is shorter in New York. That's the only difference I see. The footing's the same. I wear the same spikes."

"I think our turf is more settled this year," receiver Josh Reed said. "You don't get as much of the black tires on you (referring to the infill between the blades of grass). It still comes up some but not as much. It's a little more trusting now. There's a lot less slipping this year."

"(Giants Stadium) is like a golf green whereas ours is longer fake grass," guard Ross Tucker said. "I guess you might say because it's a little longer it could slow you down a little but I think it plays the same."

The Bills have played in rainy conditions on the new turf but have not yet had a snow game on it.

Q: How much of a cap hit did the Bills take by cutting Bobby Shaw? -- Robert Higgins, Orlando, Fla.

A: Not much. An extra $166,666 accelerated into this year's cap. Shaw had one more year left on a three-year, $2.68 million contract, so the part of his original bonus that was counting toward the 2005 season rolled back into the 2004 cap.

Q: Do you think Brian Billick is overrated? He's supposed to be a quarterback guru but the Ravens' passing offense has been horrible since he got here. -- Jamel Lantry, Baltimore, Md.

A: In 85 games under Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, the Ravens have gone without an offensive touchdown 16 times -- a full season -- or an average of once every five games. Nevertheless, Billick is not overrated. Much more important numbers are these: His career record is 55-37, he has one Super Bowl ring, and he has had three winning seasons in five years.

Billick made his reputation as Dennis Green's aide in Minnesota, where his quarterbacks were Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and Brad Johnson. In Baltimore, his QBs have been Tony Banks, Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Jeff Blake, Chris Redman and now Kyle Boller. It hasn't always been pretty, but I'd say he's gotten a lot of wins out of that collection of broad-side-of-the-barn missers.

Last week's general description of how the salary cap is determined was on the money, but a few of the numbers cited need to be corrected, further proof that capology is an accountant's job. The total broadcasting revenue this year for the entire league is $2.7 billion (up from $2.2 billion). The benefits package paid out is $15 million per team, as opposed to "about $10 million." The total cap this season per team is $80.52 million.

Bills beat reporter Mark Gaughan answers your football questions every Friday. Send your e-mails to mgaughan@buffnews.com or mail to Question Mark, The Buffalo News Sports Department, One News Plaza, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240.

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