Football Zebras
NewsPreseason games not mundane for officials

Preseason games not mundane for officials

Crews need the preseason prep

joe-philbin_hall of fame game

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has a discussion with Tom Hill, John Parry (132), and Scott Edwards during the 2013 Hall of Fame Game.

Even the most rabid fan of the NFL will admit that watching a preseason game from start to finish is a chore.  The first string players never play the whole game and are often seen without shoulder pads and joking on the sidelines while the clock ticks down to zero.  But while most of the participants during the game do not work at greatest physical, mental, and emotional efficiency, the officials must take their work seriously.

Officiating crews work a precious four preseason games together.  The NFL officiating supervisors check the game and the film, but do not formally grade the officials’ performance.  During the preseason games, the officials are able to apply new rules and rule interpretations for the upcoming season.  This is also a great time for the officials to do some quick in-game teaching to the players and coaches about how the new rule impacted the call they made or didn’t make.

Former NFL supervisor Larry Upson says it is vital for the new officials to take preseason very seriously and learn the game.  “This is the time to make mistakes.  This is the time to learn the speed of the game and learn what the NFL wants called and not called.”

Preseason games are also a good time for the officials to get in the flow of working together — especially when new members are on the crew.  When is a good time for the side judge to look to the back judge to confirm the number of defenders on the field?  How do the line judge and field judge communicate on those tight sideline catches?  How does the referee like the fouls reported to him — bare bones or more descriptive?

The preseason games are also a crucial time for the referee to evaluate his six charges, especially if there are new people on his crew, to see if there are any chemistry issues or personality issues that he needs to discuss.  Is Johnny Joker side judge getting on Captain Serious line judge’s nerves during pregame meetings?  Does Captain Serious need to relax and not treat every little thing as brain surgery?  Does field judge Charlie Fade have the tendency to lose concentration and need a gentle or harsh prod to snap back into reality?  Is Bob the back judge bitter that he didn’t get a playoff assignment last year and drags the crew into his negativity?  The referee has to be very vigilant of these and other chemistry issues and work with the crew or with each member separately to make sure the season is smooth, successful, and enjoyable.

While preseason games “don’t count” for the players and fans, the games count for the officials as they prepare for the upcoming 17-week war.

Image: Ben Liebenberg/NFL

Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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