NFL to keep the clock rolling on QB sacks in 2014

2014 rule changes

For years, the referee has signaled a quarterback sack with a whistle blast and a signal to stop the clock; however beginning with the 2014 season, the NFL will mandate that the clock keep running after a sack.

Up through the 2013 season, the referee would stop the clock on a quarterback sack.  The reasoning behind the rule was to give the receivers time to jog back to their huddle after running their pass pattern.  It would also give the quarterback a few seconds to collect his wits (and maybe scream at his offensive line) after getting dumped for a loss. Once all offensive players returned to their huddle, the referee would signal the clock to restart.  Once the clock was under two-minutes in a half, the rule changed and the clock didn’t stop on a sack — thus punishing the offense running the hurry-up.

Starting this fall, the clock will not stop on a quarterback sack.  This will bring the NFL into line with college and high school rules (which have always mandated the clock to run on a QB sack).  This will put extra pressure on the offense to keep moving and not dawdle back to the huddle after a sack – and it will also help speed up the game.

While not a major rule change, it will be interesting to see what, if any, impact this change will have starting this fall.  

Live updates: New rules proposals from NFL owners meeting


Follow Football Zebras for a comprehensive rundown of the rules proposals that are under consideration with the owners.

Continue reading

Poll: Which rules changes will owners pass?


2014 rules proposals

The NFL owners will be mulling over several changes to the rules, bylaws, and the game policies that were proposed by the Competition Committee and some teams. Which ones have a chance of passing? Football Zebras takes a look at the rule and policy proposals.

Keep in mind that the owners can call a vote on all of the following proposals, or only move to vote on certain items. Another option allows the owners to table certain items for future consideration. (Football Zebras knows its parliamentary procedure, too.) The proposals below show our thoughts on which ones will pass or otherwise be disposed of. Add your thoughts below.

  Ben Austro Mark Schultz
1. Move kickoffs to 40-yd line
Ding Ding 
2. Personal fouls reviewable Ding Ding 
3. No overtime in preseason Checkmark Ding 
4. Extend goalposts to 35 ft Ding  Ding
5. 37-yard extra-point kicks (see note below)
Ding Ding 
6. Add fixed cameras to boundaries Ding  Ding
7. Any official’s decision can be challenged Ding Ding 
8. Roll-up blocks on legs from side illegal Checkmark Checkmark 
9. Allow league office to consult on replay Checkmark Ding
10. Recovery of ball in field of play reviewable Checkmark  Checkmark
11. Allow clock to run after QB sack Checkmark Checkmark 
12. Eliminate the 1-yd “pick”/”bump” zone Ding Ding 
13. Simplify complex penalty enforcement spots Checkmark Checkmark 
(p). Allow closed retractable roof to open at halftime Checkmark Ding 

Note that for Proposal No. 5, the Competition Committee is putting forth a separate recommendation to have one preseason game use the long extra-point kick as a trial.

Several NFL officials have ties to the NCAA basketball tournament

At least three have worked the Final FourSteratoreHoops


Several officials work multiple sports from Pop Warner to the pros.  There is quite a history of NFL officials working major college basketball.  Currently, Gene Steratore (pictured) and Bill Vinovich work major college basketball.  But they are just the current in a long line of pro football officials working college basketball.

Over the years Jim Tunney, Ben Dreith, Fred Silva, Jack Fette, Robert Wortman, Tommy Bell, Tom Fincken, and Don Wedge have worked major college basketball.  Several others, like Jerry Seeman and Don Hakes worked sub-Division I basketball. 

Vinovich and Steratore have both worked the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but they have a ways to go to match the record of three former officials.  Fincken,  Wortman, and Bell have all worked the Final Four, and Wortman is the only official to work both a Super Bowl (XII) and the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship (1976).

I know they won’t answer the question, but I wonder who is more difficult of a coach work with – a college basketball coach or a NFL head coach?!



Shawn Hochuli apparently promoted to NFL


Football Zebras exclusive

The news is not confirmed, but a tweet by a relative of Shawn Hochuli — son of NFL referee Ed Hochuli — indicates that Shawn received word that he has been hired by the NFL. (Update 3/22: The tweet has since been protected.)


This is not entirely a surprise, as Shawn Hochuli worked in the NFL officiating advanced training program last preseason, and even got to work a game with his father last August. Even though an over-exuberant family member (allegedly) spilled the beans earlier than the league would have wanted, it would not have been secret for long, despite everyone’s best efforts. She cannot be blamed, as this is exciting news (allegedly). It’s out in the public sphere now, which is the new reality of life with social media.

Shawn Hochuli is a longtime back judge and has worked the past two seasons as a head referee in the Pacific 12 Conference. He also officiated games in NFL Europe before it folded in 2007.

Hochuli is entering the league at a time when many in the referee position have been in the league for 20-plus seasons. The NFL does not hire college officials directly into the referee position; in his father’s case, Ed worked two seasons as a deep official in the NFL and was promoted to referee in 1992. The elder Hochuli is entering his 25th season, so in a matter of a few years, Shawn may take the white hat of his father.

There are no vacancies that Football Zebras is aware of at back judge, so the junior Hochuli will either move to one of the deep wing positions, or one of the current back judges will move to bring him in at back judge.

Troy Vincent named EVP Football Operations


Replaces Ray Anderson as Goodell’s “number two”

Troy Vincent, the All-Pro cornerback who transitioned into an executive role in football after leaving the field, is the new NFL executive vice president of football operations. He will be the second highest ranked executive in the league after commissioner Roger Goodell.

Vincent played for 15 seasons which included five consecutive Pro Bowl seasons from 1999 to 2003. He served as president of the players union from 2004 to 2008, overlapping the final two years of his playing career. He is leaving his current position as senior vice president of NFL Player Engagement, a league initiative to help players with the transition the post-playing careers.

“Troy Vincent brings a uniquely well-rounded perspective to this leadership position,” said Goodell in a statement released by the league. “He knows the game inside out from the locker room to the board room. He has done an exceptional job growing services to our players and former players, and he is ready and eager to lead our football operations group. Troy’s passion for education, personal development, and innovation will bring a new vitality and vision to our football group.”

Goodell also appointed Dave Gardi to the newly minted senior vice president of football operations under Vincent. Gardi is the league’s vice president of labor relations and football administration.

Vincent takes over for Ray Anderson who was appointed to the position when it was created, shortly after Goodell was installed as commissioner in 2006. Anderson was most visible during the league’s collective bargaining with the players in 2011 and the officiating staff in 2012. Because of an impasse with the officials union, the NFL locked out the officials and hired a staff of replacements to work the first five weeks of the season until a deal was reached.

According to game officials who spoke to Football Zebras, Anderson’s umbrella of influence included the officiating department, which had been autonomous under the previous two commissioners. Those officials, whose identity was withheld so that they could discuss internal matters, said that Anderson was heavily involved in the operation of the officiating department.

Anderson left at the conclusion of the 2013 season and is now the athletic director at Arizona State University.

Vincent is also a non-voting member of the Competition Committee.

Image: NFL Player Engagement/

13 new rules advanced by NFL Competition Committee


Team, committee proposals up for owners vote next week

The NFL Competition Committee announced the proposed rule changes to be voted on at the owners meeting next week in Orlando.  Rich McKay of the Atlanta Falcons and Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams offered insight into the seven proposals from teams, six proposed changes or rule modifications from the committee, seven bylaw change proposals, and one resolution that will be considered over three days of meetings.

Each proposal requires a two-thirds vote of the ownership to be passed.

The Washington Redskins offered the following three rule change proposals (remember, teams that make proposals must be back by their owners in submitting the proposal):

  1. Move the kickoff to the 40-yard line for what the Redskins termed “historic” and safety reasons
  2. Expand instant replay to allow the review of personal foul penalties
  3. Eliminate overtime in preseason games, citing player safety reasons.

New England had four rule change proposals:

  1. Extend goal posts five feet higher so that officials can more easily and accurately determine if a kick was good when it passes nearly directly over the posts
  2. Move the line of scrimmage for extra point attempts to the 20-yard line to ensure more competitive play; however a two point conversion would still be from the 2-yard line;
  3. Install six fixed cameras to cover all boundary lines to supplement the TV cameras for replay reviews
  4. Permit coaches to challenge any official’s call, except on scoring plays, to “make more extensive use of the replay system.”

The Competition Committee also has six rule changes or modification proposals:

  1. Extend roll-up blocks from behind to include such blocks from the side (adding “and side” to existing rule 12-2-1)
  2. Connect the New York Officiating Command Center to all booth-to-field relay communications for every review initiated
  3. Change the rule to state that recovery of a loose ball in the field of play is reviewable
  4. Remove stoppage of the clock following a sack
  5. Pass interference can occur at or beyond the line of scrimmage, eliminating the 1-yard “pick” zone
  6. Simplify enforcement points in complex situations like a defensive foul on a net-loss and fouls on change of possession

In addition to these rule change proposals, there will be seven bylaw changes introduced next week that were proposed by the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, and the committee:

  1. Increase the active roster list by three players for teams playing Thursday games citing player safety and development
  2. Raising the practice squad limits from eight to ten
  3. Allow trading of players starting 14 days before the start of the free-agency period
  4.  Eliminate the current preseason cut down to 75 and stick with just one cut down to 53
  5. Increase injured reserve/designated to return players to more than one player;
  6. Expand teams ability to do testing and timing for players attending combine at other specific facilities due to the fact that currently, some cities are located in larger metropolitan areas which makes it easier for testing and timing than those that aren’t
  7. Adjust the timing of the final roster cut down from 6 p.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern.

Finally, the Indianapolis Colts have proposed one resolution to modify a policy.  The Colts have suggested that a home team that is playing in a stadium with a retractable roof could exercise the option to open the roof at halftime, if it is closed at the start of the game.  The Colts suggest that this is a great idea for fan enjoyment and experience and could also benefit teams on the field.

During the conference call, league officials and the leaders of the Competition Committee did bring up player sportsmanship (including racial slurs or derogatory comments involving sexual orientation) and emphasized the league’s desire to decrease the occurrences of them on the field.  These situations are personal fouls, but not always called on the field, when directed at opposing players.

Josh Lewis has joined Football Zebras as a contributing writer. This is the first of what we hope are many posts from him. Welcome, Josh.

NFL grooming players on officiating ‘fast track’


The NFL could soon see more former players become officials. The league is sending 14 former players and one active player to a pair of officiating clinics over the next three days.

The first clinic is tomorrow, March 13. It is the league’s Fast Track Clinic, run by the Football Officiating Academy and NFL Player Engagement — two initiatives of the NFL. Six player-officials are returning from last year’s clinic, as is current Bengals safety Chris Crocker. The keynote speaker is Super Bowl XLVIII referee Terry McAulay; last year’s clinic had referee Jerome Boger weeks off of his Super Bowl assignment.

The academy was established by the NFL to build interest in and increase awareness of officiating opportunities with a particular emphasis towards former athletes and inner-city youth. An initiative of the FOA also encourages female athletes to pursue officiating.

These NFL players will then join the annual Tom Beard Football Officiating Clinic on Friday and Saturday. That clinic features intense classroom and scrimmage-based instruction to a large group of applicants. The instructors at that clinic include current officials, such as referee McAulay, umpire Ruben Fowler, head linesman Wayne Mackie, back judge Greg Steed, line judge Tom Symonette, and field judge Bob Waggoner; former officials Gerry Austin, Johnny Grier, Jim Duke, and Ben Montgomery; NFL officiating scouts; and several college conferences’ coordinators of officials. While registration in this clinic is open to the general public, it is intended for elite candidates to hone their skills.


Currently, the NFL has two of its former players as officials: back judge Steve Freeman and head linesman Phil McKinnely.

The players that are attending this week’s clinics are listed below, with last year’s clinic participants in bold.

  • Charles Ali — Browns, Ravens
  • Chris Crocker — Browns, Falcons, Broncos, Bengals (current)
  • Rick DeMulling — Colts, Lions, Redskins
  • Paul Janus — Panthers, Lions
  • Garth Jax — Cardinals, Cowboys
  • Nate Jones — Cowboys, Dolphins, Broncos, Patriots
  • Terry Killens — Houston Oilers/Titans, 49ers, Seahawks
  • Moses Moreno — Bears, Chargers
  • Mike Morton — Raiders, Rams, Packers, Colts
  • Kemp Rasmussen — Panthers, Seahawks
  • Mike Roberg — Buccaneers, Colts
  • Lance Schulters — 49ers, Titans, Dolphins, Falcons
  • William Thomas — Eagles, Raiders
  • Landon Trusty — Chargers
  • David Wohlabaugh — Rams, Browns, Patriots

NFL borrows 8th official from Big 12


The NFL is looking to take a page from the playbook of one of its referees.

Vice president of officiating Dean Blandino is looking to run a trial of an eighth official as early as this preseason, according to Judy Battista of NFL Media. Referee Walt Anderson implemented an eighth official for the 2013 season in the Big 12 Conference, where Anderson is the coordinator of officials.

This new position — labeled “A” for alternate in the NCAA — has responsibility for spotting the ball and watching the interior line play. This alleviates some of the duties of the umpire due to overlapping responsibilities in high-pace offensive play. This official would set in the offensive backfield on the side of the quarterback’s throwing arm, but set closer to the sideline than the referee. Since alternate has specific meaning in the NFL, the league will probably have a more descriptive name, like center judge.

The extra official would not be on the field for the 2014 regular season under any circumstances, and would probably need a second trial in the 2015 preseason. This means that the earliest regular season action of the extra official would be no earlier than 2016.

During the 2013 offseason, Anderson explained the pressing need, saying, “What we’ve got to be sure is that officiating changes along with the game to be sure that it is administered fairly for both sides of the football.”

In addition, Anderson said the eighth official helps in “covering blind spots that the evolution of the game has created, because there are only seven of us and there are 22 players spread out all over the field.”

This does not appear to be reactionary on the NFL’s part to a coverage loss resulting from the umpire being repositioned in the offensive backfield in 2010. Notably, holding penalties did not trend downward with the move.

Year Offensive Holding Defensive Holding
2013 565 171
2012 629  147
2011 601 126
2010* 607 100
2009 542 101
2008 484 112
2007 494 82
2006 481 119
2005 707 187

The NFL experimented with a deep judge for the eighth official in the 2010 and 2011 preseason. That trial was a reaction to the increasing use of four wide-receiver sets on pass-heavy offenses covered by three deep officials. The deep judge has not been used since. The NFL added the seventh official in 1978, the side judge, as a reaction to the transition to pass-dominant offenses.

If the NFL does a tryout of the 8-man system this preseason, it seems that Anderson’s “A” officials would be tapped for the trial. There likely would not be a full slate of 16 or 17 of these officials, but probably only four games, as was done for the 2010 deep judge position. (The 2011 preseason had 12 games with a deep judge.)

Because there are at least five new officials and one or two officials promoted to referee this season, the officiating department will probably avoid assigning the extra official where there are new crew members.

There doesn’t appear to be any formal vote planned by the Competition Committee, and it is unclear if there will be a vote of the ownership on the trial, if it is implemented in the 2014 preseason.

Anderson explains the 8th official in a Big 12 Conference video

Image: Big 12 Conference. Table source: Pro Football Reference. Accepted penalties only, and includes penalties on special teams or after a change of possession.

5 major issues on the NFL Competition Committee agenda

Committee to consider rule changes next week

How do you change a NFL rule?  A rule change first has to pass muster with the Competition Committee.  There are several rule proposals floated during the season as potential problems and issues arise on the field.  The committee meets in Florida next week to consider those proposals, and to draw up rule changes for the owners to consider. rulebookThe owners will meet later this month to vote on the proposals.  Seventy-five percent of the owners need to vote in favor to change a rule.

Football Zebras speculated on the agenda, but committee member Mark Murphy (who is the CEO of the Packers and a former NFL player) revealed the entire agenda.

Blocks.  The competition committee will consider making several blocks illegal for 2014.  The committee will consider changing or modifying the rules governing chop blocks, cut blocks downfield, roll blocks, and peel-back blocks.  Committee members will also mull over whether or not to give extra protection to the quarterback when running the read-option in the pocket.  An intriguing rule change will be to tighten up the hands to the face penalty.  Right now the player being fouled has to have his head pinned back in a sustained way in order for the official to drop the penalty flag.  The committee will study if players are using a quick shove to the face to gain an unfair advantage and if so, that action will now be illegal.  

Defenseless player hits.   The NFL has mandated that officials call high hits against a defenseless player.  This took a hit out of the game that potentially could cause head injuries.  Players compensated by hitting players lower, and those hits resulted many more leg and knee injuries.  The committee will now consider making low hits against a defenseless player illegal.

Language.  In light of several highly publicized incidents of foul or disrespectful language on and off the field this past season, the Competition Committee will consider penalizing players who use racially charged language on the field. If it is implemented, it will likely be done as a point of emphasis under the current “abusive language” rules.

Extra points.  One of the more interesting (and in my opinion, puzzling) proposals is to drop the extra point kicks after a touchdown.  The reasoning behind changing the extra point rules is, according to commissioner Roger Goodell, the extra point kick is not exciting and a very high percentage play.  Extra point kicks have been around since 1883, so it will be interesting to see if the NFL will change one of its fundamental rules. Early indication is that the discussion will not result in a new rule proposal this season.

Instant replay.  Two ideas under consideration by the competition committee will be to make replay centralized in NFL headquarters and to have all replay challenges initiated by the replay official up in the booth.  While the committee will probably give serious consideration to replay rules, there are several obstacles standing in the way of centralized replay starting in 2014. The indication is that the change will be to have the Officiating Command Center patched in to the booth-to-field communication to monitor the process.

It remains to be seen how many of these rule changes will get to the owners, but the Competition Committee meeting always makes for interesting off-season discussion.