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Rule change draws ire of elite QBs

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Mike Pereira

Mike Pereira was the NFL's Vice President of Officiating from 2004-09, having spent the five seasons previous to that as the league's Director of Officiating. He also served as an NFL game official when he acted as a side judge for two seasons (1997-98). Follow him on Twitter.

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Three full weeks into the NFL’s preseason, we’ve already seen two of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, test the limits of the new rule that repositions the umpire and places him in the offensive backfield.

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In Thursday’s 59-24 loss to the Packers, the Colts quarterback was penalized twice for illegal snaps when center Jamey Richard snapped the ball to Manning before umpire Garth DeFelice was in position. The calls cost Indianapolis five yards each time.

“It certainly doesn’t seem like they took some of the things that we do and other teams do into account when they make the rule,” Manning said after the game. “I’m not a big fan of it right now.”

Brees – another quarterback who utilizes a fast-moving, quick snap attack on offense – also has been penalized for snapping the ball before the umpire was in position, drawing two of these “false start” calls in Friday’s 36-20 preseason victory over the Chargers.

Good news for Manning and Brees: The referees and umpires will meet in Dallas on Friday, September 10 following the NFL's Thursday night kickoff opener between the Vikings and Saints. They’ll discuss this new positioning change, along with other issues.

The new rule positions the umpire from his previous spot behind the middle linebacker, four or five yards off the line of scrimmage, to the offensive backfield, where he is stationed 12 to 15 yards deep and set to the left of the quarterback and opposite the referee.

The rule was put in place to protect the umpire from frequent collisions in what traditionally is a high-traffic area during play.

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Before, the umpire placed the football and stepped back into his spot behind the linebackers. Now that he has to maneuver through a crowd of offensive players and hustle at least 15 yards to be in position, does an up-tempo quarterback like Manning have a legitimate complaint if the official seemingly impedes his no-huddle offense?

Not at all. This is the rule that was put in place. And Colts president Bill Polian, a member of the competition committee, was in the meetings. We’ve always said there would be some things that came up in games that we would have to tweak. Even Bill admits himself that we’re going to have to tweak this thing a little bit.

During Friday’s meeting among the officials, a couple of things have to be decided:

  • How is the quarterback going to be notified that the officials are in position? I don’t agree with what they’re doing right now, which is to have the head linesman or the line judge raise his hand and the quarterback has to look at the sideline. That’s not what he’s used to looking at. He’s used to looking at the defense. So I really think, in my mind, they have to go to the referee and have him give a “chop” of the whistle as soon as he sees that the officials are in their normal position.
  • Then, they have to decide, what is the normal position? To me, the normal position is to just get beyond the deepest back. I think if you do that, and not wait until the guy gets 12 or 15 yards, I think you’ll eliminate the problem.

Those are the two things they have to address in Dallas: how are you going to notify the quarterback that the officials are in position, and then what is the normal position? If they just shrink it down to say as long as the referee clears the back, I think the problem virtually goes away. In a hurry-up offense, I don’t think you have to wait for the official to get all the way back there.

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In Peyton’s case, he was in shotgun in the first call. And it was close. You just have to make sure you get beyond the quarterback.

The positioning change, which was approved unanimously by the NFL’s competition committee, will be enforced throughout the regular season. But the preseason is an opportunity for the NFL to analyze, meet and possibly make adjustments. Colts coach Jim Caldwell understands that and he’s hoping there is room to accommodate a fast-moving offense like the one his team runs.

“It didn’t work well for us (Thursday) night on a couple of occasions,” Caldwell said, “so we hope in the evaluation process they’ll find some middle ground, give us an opportunity to use our offense like we’ve done for a number of years.”

For now, teams have to adjust to this new rule. The only guy that can change the rule is Commissioner Roger Goodell himself, if he wanted to change it. But I don’t think he’s going to want to do that.

It’s one of those things that I don’t think is as big of an issue as it’s turned out to be in Week 3 of the preseason. Everybody is trying to feel their way around.

I think when the referees and the umpires get together later this week, and when the competition committee probably has a phone meeting about it, they’ll figure it out. They’ll get it set up more quickly.

And it will all get ironed out.

Tagged: Colts, Saints, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees

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