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6 keys for the 2014 season



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It is time. Clinic attended, check.  Rules test taken, check. Camps visited, check. Preseason games officiated, check. It is time for the 2014 NFL season.  Just as officials have keys to read on every play, I’m going to be keying in on five things as I zebra-watch from now until the confetti flies after Super Bowl XLIX.

1.  How will the double rookie do?  For the first time in the modern area, the NFL has hired a rookie official to the referee position.  Brad Allen, a NCAA officiating veteran, will call his first pro football season as a referee.  How will this work?  Can Allen make the jump from Saturday to Sunday?  I can’t wait to watch and find out.

2.  How will the wireless communication work?  Starting this season, NFL officials will be able to communicate with each other via wireless communication devices.  This should help officials communicate faster and more efficiently and in theory cut down on prolonged huddles and conferences. It will also be used for communications with the crew on replays before the referee gets to the replay equipment. I’m sure it will take some getting used to, but we’ll see if wireless communications help speed the game along.

3.  How will Mike Carey work as an officiating analyst?  This past summer, after the NFL made its final hires, Mike Carey made a surprise retirement announcement.  Carey will be an officiating analyst for CBS Sports starting this year.  Carey was a widely respected official on the field, and we’ll see how he does explaining NFL rules, judgement calls, and officiating mechanics to a national TV audience.

4.  How will the rookie officials do?  This year, 13 new officials will take the field — the most rookies in one season in a generation.  While it is a good thing for the NFL to get some new officiating blood on the roster, will these rookies be able to adapt to the pro game, learn the rules, and adapt to the speed of the game?  It will be fun to see these rookies cut their teeth on Sundays (and Thursdays; and the occasional Monday; there’s a Saturday game, too?).

5.  How will instant replay work with the referee able to communicate with the NFL officiating office in New York?  Dean Blandino or Alberto Riveron will not make the replay ruling for the referee, but they will be available to consult with the referee while he is under the hood. While the referee retains the final decision, referees privately contend that they will not contradict any consulatation from the officiating “war room.” It is unlikely that officials or Blandino will share the details of replay their consultations, but it’ll be interesting to see if this is the first step toward a centralized replay.

6.  Will the officials keep calling illegal contact, holding and defensive pass interference?  The officials have been instructed to strictly call the clutching, grabbing and blocking by the defense on receivers in the pass pattern.  This has lead to a spike in flags in the preseason, much to the grumbling of the fans.  Will the crews keep it up in the regular season?  We’ll see.

Finally, I’ll stick my neck out and make a prediction for who will officiate Super Bowl XLIX:

  • R Gene Steratore
  • U Bill Schuster
  • HL Tom Stabile
  • LJ Jeff Seeman
  • FJ Doug Rosenbaum
  • SJ Michael Banks
  • BJ Terrance Miles

As former referee Red Cashion said after every coin toss, “Gentlemen, let’s play football!”

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?"