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NFL not done tweaking umpire mechanics

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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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The NFL has tweaked its new umpire positioning rule with a few changes, and for the most part they make sense.

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• The umpire will now position himself 12 yards from the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped, rather than the approximate 15-yard mark used in the preseason.

• The head linesman or line judge can signal when the ball can be snapped instead of having the quarterback check with the umpire.

• The umpire now just has to clear the nearest back when a team is trying to quick-snap the ball.

And if it’s at all close, they’re going to issue the quarterback a warning. I think that’s good, because officials have always given warnings to teams if they line up in an illegal formation or close to an illegal formation. The crews give them a warning first before they actually call a 5-yard penalty for an illegal snap.

I think that makes sense to do that, to issue the warning before enforcing, so you don’t get caught up in that false start scenario.

On Friday, the referees and officials will meet in Dallas to review the preseason and the other mechanics of changes to the umpire positioning. I’m sure they’ll address some issues of how to get the ball spotted. But in terms of the umpire rule, or the umpire mechanics — the rule just got pretty much set.

The umpire will now go back inside to the middle of the defense, his former position, at the two minute mark of the first half, and at the five minute mark of the fourth quarter. The umpire also will move back when the offense is at, or inside, the opponent’s 5-yard line.

And I must say, I don’t agree with that. I don’t with agree with extending to the five minute mark of the fourth quarter. The idea that the officials put forth — to place the umpire back inside of two minutes — was to give the offense as many snaps as it could get inside of two minutes.

Outside of two minutes, the officials don’t change their pace. They never have. So to me, putting the umpires back on the defensive side inside of five minutes just to help the team that’s behind get back in the game won’t help. The officials aren’t going to spot the ball any quicker in that time frame, from five minutes to two.

Furthermore, the NFL begins to talk out of both sides of its mouth with this.

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The NFL says it’s enacting this new umpire rule for safety – the league has cited statistics that indicate a significant increase in the number of collisions and injuries sustained by umpires. But now that the NFL is extending the exception to the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, or when the ball is snapped at, or inside, the opponent’s 5-yard line, what the league is doing is putting the umpire back in a vulnerable position.

Inside of two minutes, it’s OK — if time is a factor and a team is out of timeouts, that team would work the outside of the field and umpire would be protected. The offense wouldn’t work the middle of the field.

But from five minutes to two, teams are still going to work the middle of the field and run those crossing routes, and the umpire is going to be susceptible to the same types of contact injuries, the collisions, that he’s had before.

Personally, I don’t agree with that. And I don’t agree with putting the umpire back at the five minute mark of the fourth quarter, and I still don’t agree with the head linesman or line judge signaling to the quarterback that the officials are in position. The quarterback is not used to looking at a line judge or linesman. He’s looking at the defense.

And the linesman or line judge has so many things to do in terms of watching for illegal formations, false starts and all that stuff. I don’t see how he can be looking in the offensive backfield to see if the umpire is clear of the deepest back, and then raise his hand.

I still say it’s the referee’s job. He’s the one who sees the field best and he’s the one to best notify the referee by making — in my mind — an audible whistle. Just give a toot on the whistle to signify to the quarterback that the coast is clear.

These latest umpire positioning changes are steps the NFL had to take to address some of the issues that surfaced in the preseason. But I don’t think the tweaking is over. I think they’ll all take a look at it as everyone gets a little bit further into the season and see if there are any other changes that can be made — or if any of these current changes don’t work.

They don’t have to wait until the offseason to make mechanics’ changes. If they go through the first three weeks of the season and this umpire rule — as it’s currently written — doesn’t seem to be working for whatever reason, they can make further changes even if it’s in the middle of the season.

Nothing that presented itself in the preseason will be like it is in the regular season. The regular season is a different pace. More is at stake. And I think in regular season games, they’ll be able to see some of the problems that surface and maybe make some other adjustments.
 

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