It is only 2½ days, but in its own way it is a grueling training camp.
The NFL officials are meeting today in Dallas for their annual clinic weekend, a chance for NFL vice-president of officiating Dean Blandino to have his entire staff in the same room two weeks prior to the first preseason game. Yes, already!
The clinic serves as the linchpin for consistency throughout the season. The interpretations of the new rules are hashed out through film study and lectures. The what-ifs are extensive, and Blandino will be able to explain in detail so the same call is made in every stadium. As we noted earlier, there are a handful of new rules, adopted by the owners and competition committee. No doubt they will be covered this weekend.
While this weekend of meetings generally consists of the same types of conversations and rules discussions year after year, a source has told Football Zebras that this year’s clinic will include more physical conditioning, including things like shuttle runs and exercises in calisthenics. By doing so, it’s clear that the NFL is placing a closer spotlight on the physical aptitude of our officials.
Garth DeFelice will be heading up the meetings with the umpires this year, replacing outgoing supervisor Ed Coukart. The other supervisors will conduct breakout groups: Johnny Grier (referees), Gary Slaughter (head linesmen and line judges), and Neely Dunn (deep officials). All of the crews will also have a chance to get together and coordinate their off-field duties related to the job.
In addition to the physical tests, there are tests related to the officials’ rules knowledge. Video and written tests are included in the rules knowledge portion of the tests. In the past there was little consequence to failing the physical portions of these tests, though sources say the league is considering changing that. Obviously, many past and current officials agree that these guys sitting out if they don’t pass the test is important.
Image: NFL Network from a 2009 video about the clinic.