By: Barry Barnes, Founder
What a year it has been for the NFL – old faces moving on, new faces in new places, new rules and new challenges. Still, the process toward excellence remains absolute – including officiating.
Heck, especially officiating!
Officiating is the core of the football world. In fact, officiating helps to ensure the best possible product throughout the sports world.
Former vice president of officiating Dean Blandino moved from the high rises of New York City to the sunny skies of Los Angeles with the FOX Sports Network. Lifetime veteran official and front office executive Al Riveron is the new head chief in charge after assisting Blandino for nearly four years as the senior director of officiating.
And the newly appointed vice president of officiating and his NFL Caretakers are not skipping a beat.
According to NFL Penalty Tracker, using the stats of Week 10 of 2016 and this season, the numbers are consistent. One hundred and seventy-six total penalties were called in Week 10 of last season, while 187 infractions were flagged during this year’s campaign. The increased number is largely due to lack of discipline on the offensive side of the ball.
Forty-five offensive holdings were in Week 10 of this year (3.21 per game), opposed to 32 in the last season (2.29 per game). One clipping call was made in Week 10 a year ago, when two were signaled this year, including two taunting fouls and a crackback call – which were not identified.
The glaring issue is accountability, which the NFL Caretakers are striving to get teams to implement.
In terms of taking the initiative and accountability for the game, the NFL hired 21 full-time officials to sharpen the profession and create a standard for officiating across the board.
“This (organization) has to be first class,” stated NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent to the officials at the 2017 NFL Officiating Clinic in July. “We have to be better. We must help you guys to do better. Our officials are the cream of the crop of officiating.”
Among the cream of the crop are as follows:
Brad Allen, Referee
Walt Anderson, Referee
Jerome Boger, Referee
Pete Morelli, Referee
Barry Anderson, Umpire
Dan Ferrell, Umpire
Bill Schuster, Umpire
Derick Bowers, Down Judge
Ed Camp, Down Judge
Rusty Baynes, Line Judge
Julian Mapp, Line Judge
Mark Perlman, Line Judge
Mark Steinkerchner, Line Judge
Tom Hill, Field Judge
Steve Zimmer, Field Judge
Boris Cheek, Side Judge
Jonah Monroe, Side Judge
Steve Freeman, Back Judge
Scott Helverson, Back Judge
Terrence Miles, Back Judge
Greg Steed, Back Judge
In addition to officiating, a majority of the NFL Caretakers are career professionals in fields of business, law and entrepreneurship. If the NFL had forced their caretakers to alter their other careers abruptly, they would have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Shield and the officials compromised for the good of football. The hires were walk-in touchdowns.
The NFL may have been the last of the major sporting associations in the country to make some of their officials full-time staffers, however, they are expected to set a standard in consistency, health, nutrition and performance.
Recovery is under that umbrella and umpire Jeff Rice is the latest poster child for that category as he was injured in Week 10 of the New England Patriots/Denver Broncos matchup.
In the third quarter with 1:35 remaining, the Broncos punted to the Patriots for the second time of the evening. Patriots linebacker Trevor Reilly was battling against Broncos rookie cornerback Jamal Carter to make a play when Carter threw Reilly into the back of Rice’s leg. Rice towered over Reilly’s body to fall squarely on his back and his head banged on the turf.
The veteran official was carted off the field smiling – and chewing gum. He will be back in the field soon.
A statement of excellence was made that evening as Walt Coleman and his crew did not miss a beat as they closed the game out with six officials. The Patriots had the game well in hand, and anything could have gone wrong. Nevertheless, work ethic, accountability, focus and commitment to the game of football by Coleman’s crew was a testament to their craft.
Now, for some highlights.
WEEK ONE – CLEVELAND BROWNS VS PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Late fourth quarter with 3:36 remaining on fourth-and-goal from the Steelers’ 3-yard line, Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer received the snap from under center and threw a quick slant to the left to wide receiver Corey Coleman. Coleman caught the pass, but slightly crossed the goal line before he was destroyed by Steelers safety J.J. Wilcox and knocked backwards.
Side judge Jeff Lamberth of Craig Wrolstad’s crew was on top of the play and never hesitated to signal a touchdown.
Great call on a bang-bang situation.
WEEK TWO – CINCINNATI BENGALS VS. HOUSTON TEXANS
We have a two-fer for referee Clete Blakeman and the gang.
Midway through the third quarter with 8:15 left, the Bengals decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Texans’ 19-yard line. Bengals running back Jeremy Hill took the hand off and leaped over the pile for the first down, but when he landed head first, the ball came loose and the Texans recovered the ball.
Umpire Ramon George quickly ran to the pile and down judge Hugo Cruz was on the spot. The crew signaled that Hill was down by contact because George and Cruz witnessed that Texans rookie linebacker Dylan Cole and defensive end J.J. Watt touched the ball carrier on his way down.
Two plays later from the Texans’ 12-yard line on second-and-6, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton rifled a pass from shotgun formation to the back of the endzone to tight end Tyler Eifert, who made a game changing touchdown – until field judge Joe Larrew threw his hat.
Larrew trailed Eifert’s footsteps and noticed that he stepped out of bounds on his own and came back in bounds to make the catch. Eifert was hit with an illegal touch penalty, and the review backed Larrew’s findings.
WEEK THREE – JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AND BALTIMORE RAVENS
During the second quarter with 5:43 remaining and third-and-7 from the Ravens’ 12-yard line, the Jaguars were rolling. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles dropped back from under center and scrambled to his left to avoid Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs. Bortles sprinted towards the sideline to only stick the ball across the first down marker.
Originally, the officials had Bortles short for the first down, but the field judge of Pete Morelli’s crew came to discuss what he saw. Consequently, the ball was moved and Morelli ruled Bortles’ run went for a first gain.
Great teamwork from Morelli and the crew.
WEEK EIGHT – LOS ANGELES CHARGERS VS NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Earlier in the second half with 13:28 on the clock, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers looked to go deep down the field on first-and-10 from the Patriots’ 42-yard line and found wide receiver Tyrell Williams flying up the left sideline. Williams caught the bomb from Rivers for a touchdown, but no signal for a score surfaced.
Off with the hat of side judge Boris Cheek as he ruled an illegal touch due to the fact Williams took three steps out of bounds.
Having the assistance of the replay officials and Game Day Central is essential for getting the calls right, but it is nothing like good old-fashioned calls on the field.
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