The NFL is using two new kicking mechanics this season on field goal and extra point attempts and on free kicks (kickoffs).
Football Zebras contacted the NFL officiating office to see if these changes are a preseason experiment or will be permanent; however the NFL did not respond to our request at publishing time.
Umpire in backfield on scoring kicks
The NFL is placing the umpire in the backfield on field goal and extra point attempts. Previously the umpire and side judge both lined up in the defensive backfield. Now it looks like this:
I am quite intrigued with this positioning. There are several restrictions on the defense during these kicks, ranging from alignment, leaping and leverage. It seems like the NFL needs two umpires to keep everything squared away during the play.
I think the NFL is trying to see if the umpire gets a better look at leaping fouls positioned while in the offensive backfield. There is also a point of emphasis on initiating contact with the long snapper’s head or neck, a foul for a hit on a defenseless player. Additionally, films may show that the kicking team is getting away with too much holding or other illegal blocks, so the umpire is there to watch.
The referee has too much going on in protecting the kicker to see fouls at the line. The umpire is lined up almost straight on to get a good look at the line. The referee still takes all roughing the kicker/holder calls.
One drawback is on a blocked kick. On some blocked kicks, the bounding ball could land in the umpire’s lap and he’ll have to do a quick dance to get out-of-the-way.
Wings flip-flop on free kicks
This preseason, the down judge and the line judge are swapping positions with the field judge and side judge on kickoffs. The field judge and side judge are back at the goal line with the kickoff receivers. The down judge and the line judge line up at the receiving team’s front line.
The umpire, back judge and referee stay in their same positions.
This makes sense. On punts, the deep wings are downfield with the receivers. On a long return, the deep wings release the runner to the down and line judges. That mechanic is now the same on punts and free kicks. The down and line judges also have to judge several “line” calls and can pick up a bounding ball on onside kicks that approach the receivers 10-yard restraining line.
I will watch these two mechanics changes with great interest.