By: Barry Barnes, Founder
While NFL squads dial back significantly in their preseason schemes and game planning, and veterans and secured players take plays off to guard themselves from injuries, The NFL Caretakers are always under the spotlight to perform at their highest level.
Moreover, because of these high expectations and demands, NFL Football Operations is constantly seeking ways to improve the game and provide the environment for officials to be their best. There were several experimental changes during the preseason not necessarily to be noticed by the casual viewer, but could find their way into future game administration.
In Week 2 of the NFL preseason, officiating crews welcomed an additional member to present an eight-man assembly, featuring the “Middle Judge.”
— Troy Vincent (@TroyVincent23) July 15, 2016
The middle judge was positioned 18 to 20 yards behind the defensive line to monitor the actions between the center and guards. Depending on the action on the field, the middle judge would focus on the interior sequences between the hash marks.
Along the hash marks during the finale of games in the fourth quarter, the NFL Caretakers operated with six-man crews, in preparation for an uneventful injury to a member of the third team. Some of the crews performed this exercise in Week 1 for a portion of the game.
Fortunately, the NFL Caretakers didn’t miss a beat, and even when field judge Steve Zimmer took over for Craig Wrolstad as a referee for half of the fourth quarter showdown of the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, no one truly recognized the switch.
There was another on-the-field switch exercise, the referee try-outs, which took place during the final week of exhibition. Shawn Smith, Shawn Hochuli and Alex Kemp auditioned for the white position.
Smith is a former Big Ten official, and is currently in his second season with the NFL as an umpire.
First media and network officiating video for 2016 season https://t.co/o5wkGzXBUx
— Dean Blandino (@DeanBlandino) September 2, 2016
Kemp fashioned his steps with Smith from the Big Ten as a side judge and referee as well. With two years in the NFL as a side judge, his father, the late-great side judge and referee Stan Kemp, would have been proud.
Speaking of proud, Hochuli is enjoying his time with his father, Ed Hochuli, as a back judge in the NFL. After surfing between the Pac-12 and Big 12, Hochuli is exceeding high praises and accolades from among his peers and the NFL front office.
Although Hochuli’s herculic father jumbled his words in sounding a call in his Week 1 assignment of the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers, The NFL Caretakers did not joggle many calls.
WEEK 1 – DALLAS COWBOYS VS. LOS ANGELES RAMS
Pete Morelli is among one of the living officiating legends in all of sports. And his crew continues to do well in questionable situations.
In the third quarter with 10:23 remaining, Cowboys quarterback Jameill Showers was under pressure and attempted to throw the ball before being hit in the back by Rams defensive end Matt Longacre. Showers loss the ball while his arm was in motion.
As the loose ball bounced on the turf, Rams defensive tackle Dominique Easley tried to scoop up the ball, and before he had full possession, he was stripped by Cowboys running back Darius Jackson.
Ultimately, Rams defensive tackle Ethan Westbrooks recovered the ball on the Cowboys’ four.
The play was ruled as a fumbled. However, replay displayed a different reality.
Replay showed Showers’ arm was going forward, making the play an incomplete pass to Jackson.
WEEK 1 – HOUSTON TEXANS VS. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
In this contest, with 9:28 remaining in regulation, Texans running back Akeem Hunt caught a short pass from quarterback Tom Savage from the 49ers’ six-yard line. Hunt tight roped the sideline to stay in bounds for the touchdown.
All debated touchdowns must be submitted for replay, and the play stood as called. Replay highlighted Hunt’s toes were in play with some of the green turf showing between his right foot and the white line.
Thumbs up to John Parry and his crew for making a solid on the field call.
WEEK 3 – DALLAS COWBOYS VS. SEATTLE SEAHWAKS
Wrolstad and his crew was solid on their on-the-field calls, especially in this contest.
In the fourth quarter as the clock was ticking with 13:13 remaining, Cowboys cornerback Dax Swanson fielded a punt and went on a 67-yard dash to the endzone. Nevertheless, the play was nullified due to an illegal block in the back by Cowboys wide receiver Vince Mayle.
Mayle either mistakenly or intentionally fell forward behind the Seahawks’ player, which opened up the outside for Swanson zoom by.
In the same quarter on third-and-12, Seahawks quarterback Trevone Boykin received the snap from shotgun formation, rolled out to his right and rifled a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Antwan Goodley, who was covered by Cowboys cornerback Josh Thomas.
Goodley drove forward for the pass on a deep comeback route and caught it before he went out of bounds.
The ruling on the field was a complete catch. The Cowboys immediately challenged the call. Clearly, Goodley’s left elbow landed in bounds and had full control of the ball before sliding out of bounds.
The catch was confirmed, great call.
The best call made during the preseason was from head linesman Jerry Bergman to NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino about his recovery. Bergman sustained a knee injury in the Week 1 matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD.
Bergman is healing and may be ready in Week 1 to join the rest of the NFL Caretakers, who are ready to perform at their highest levels under the lens of the greatest scrutiny.