Sam Farmer: Be prepared to see more ump-and-run

Officially speaking, players will notice position change

August 01, 2010|By Sam Farmer, Tribune newspapers

For NFL umpires, safety comes at a cost.

They will be out of the line of fire — moving from the middle of the defense to several yards behind the quarterback — but their job won't be any easier. In many ways, it will be harder.

"This is a radical change," said retired field official Ron Botchan, widely regarded as the best umpire in NFL history. "It's going to take some adjusting. But the owners wanted it, the competition committee wanted it and it's their ball, man."

Botchan, now an officiating supervisor with a special understanding of how difficult this change will be, is confident league umpires will iron out the wrinkles in the revamped system. But it also will take some serious adjusting.

Among the changes and challenges:

•Get ready to run. Umpires are responsible for setting the ball to be snapped. That wasn't a problem when they were 5 yards deep on the defensive side. Now, however, they will be 15 yards deep on the offensive side, so they will be sprinting forward and backpedaling out of the picture. That's tougher than it sounds.

"If it's a hot game, after three or four runs up the middle, some guys are going to be dragging," Botchan said.

•Get out of the way. Botchan and others predict that teams that like to run hurry-up offenses could be frustrated by the time it takes to set the ball and for the official to get out of the way.

In the final two minutes of each half, the umpire will return to his traditional spot in the middle of the defense to keep out of the flow of a fast-moving game.

•Win some, lose some. Monitoring the offensive and defensive lines is an umpire's main responsibility, and the new position will make that easier and tougher. Good news for defensive linemen: offensive holding will be more obvious, but defensive holding — and those outlawed pre-snap flinches by defensive linemen — will be harder to spot.

Umpires used to be a huge help in determining whether receivers trapped or caught passes. Now, they usually will be too far away to tell.

•Get used to the change. Many umpires are former college linebackers, so they felt at home in their old position. That old model of umpire — stout and sturdy — probably isn't going to work anymore because of all the running. And you can expect colleges to follow the NFL's lead.

"I'm not guaranteeing anything, but I've talked to two or three (college) conferences that are going to flip over to the new way," Botchan said. "They're going to be looking for umpires who can really run."

Sam Farmer covers the NFL for the Los Angeles Times.

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