Posted by Andy Benoit
The Colts-Packers gave fans rare first-class preseason entertainment Thursday night, but what ardent football buffs took away from the game was just how disruptive the new umpiring position can be.
By now, you’ve probably had it explained to you 9 or 10 times that the NFL has decided to relocate the umpire from the linebacking area to the backfield. The main reason behind the move was umpire safety (there were 100 collisions and three injuries to umpires in 2009).
So far this preseason, the popular thing for television analysts to explain is that this relocation will lead to more offensive holding calls.
(This, by the way, will probably prove untrue before long; penalties always increase with rule changes, but ultimately, players adjust.)
In ESPN’s Packers-Colts telecast, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden remonstrated about how the umpire’s new positioning slows down the flow of play. The umpire must spot the ball and then run 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The offense is not allowed to snap the ball until the umpire and referee are both deeper than the deepest back. This means a one- to two-second delay, which, in hurry-up time, is an eternity.
Because of this, the NFL decided that umpires will remain in their old linebacker position inside of two minutes. But this doesn’t help a team like the Colts, who run a hurry-up outside of two minutes. Indeed, Indy was flagged for two false snaps Thursday night. They were held up on several more snaps, with Peyton Manning constantly having to look to his left to get the side judge’s approval to snap the ball. As Jaws and Gruden stressed, this forces a quarterback to take his eyes off the defense, which goes against everything he’s taught.
Colts president Bill Polian is very powerful within the NFL (he’s on the Competition Committee). You can bet he’s going to ask (demand) that the league re-examine the execution of the umpire’s new positioning.
Gruden correctly pointed out that the difference in the flow of the hurry-up outside of two minutes and inside of two minutes was startling. Jaws suggested that, instead of worrying so much about the umpire’s safety, the league should find more athletic umpires and give them helmets. It’s not a bad idea when you consider that doing so would force only one person to make a drastic change (the umpire) rather than an entire offense to make a drastic change.
The NFL seems hesitant to make major changes, though. In an e-mail sent to ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky, NFL spokesman Michael Signora said, "The movement of the umpire to the offensive backfield will happen in the regular-season. We continue to analyze and review the impact of the change in the preseason, and we may announce some tweaks to the mechanics of the position prior to the regular season, but the move is a definite."
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