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Crews will be intentionally shorthanded for parts of final preseason game

6-man mechanics

What happens when the referee gets injured during a game? Fans will see that play out in many of the final preseason games, but, thankfully, not due to injuries.

Crews will deliberately switch to 6-person  mechanics for a portion of the fourth quarter of the Week 4 preseason games. Most of the crews did this for a portion of the first preseason game this year, as we noted. Various configurations  were tried by the crews, based on a missing official other than the referee; this time, however, the referee position will be the one vacated.

During the postseason, there are three alternate officials assigned to each game, and five to the Super Bowl. There are no alternates assigned to the regular season games, so crews must play short in case of an injury. Each crew has its own plan on how to handle vacancies at each position, which depends on the strengths of the remaining crew members. The most typical 6-person  formation is to leave the back judge position empty, and fill the vacant position  with the  back judge directly or as part of shifting two positions. Other crews might leave a field judge or side judge open, with the back judge and the line-of-scrimmage official taking on the extra burden; in some cases, the line judge is vacant, relying heavier on  the side judge and head linesman. Because of chain duties for the head linesman and the ball-spotting duties for the umpire, these positions are not recommended to be vacant. Similarly, someone has to be in the referee position.

As I noted in  So You Think You Know Football,  Bernie Kukar was injured in 2003 when a blocked punt put him in the middle of the action.  The crew’s plan arranged in advance was that the field judge would become referee.

The field judge was a rookie official named  Gene Steratore who would ascend to the referee position permanently three  years later. Kukar handed his white hat to Steratore, but Steratore initially  declined. Perhaps fueled by the pain from his injury, Kukar insisted with a  sharp-tongued response. Steratore obliged.  

In an article in Referee magazine some years later, Steratore admitted his  reservation to wear the white hat was out of respect for the man who would  continue to be their crew chief, albeit from the locker room. “For me, that  was sacred ground,” Steratore said, referring to the symbolism of the white  hat.

For the preseason formation practice, the crew’s designated adjunct white hat will take over in the fourth quarter, generally at the start of a new possession. This may be for the duration of the fourth quarter or only a few series. The three crews that have officials trying out to be a future white hat are likely not involved in this trial. In Wednesday’s rescheduled game in Tampa, field judge Steve Zimmer took over for referee Craig Wrolstad, with the field judge position being left vacant.

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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5 thoughts on “Crews will be intentionally shorthanded for parts of final preseason game

  1. There was a game in Baltimore ’96 or ’97 where Larry Nemmers went down in the game. The line judge who was Ron Marinucci worked the LOS for some plays and deep for others.
    Nemmers, had torn a calf muscle and came back to finish the game, but the network always went to break on change of possession so he didn’t have to run down the field

  2. Ha! Shorthanded!?!? The Triplette crew is working shorthanded every week.

    First, they have the worst referee in the NFL at the helm and then they have the PR project working as an LJ. And, she is bad enough to make Triplette look worse. Too bad for the good guys on that crew who will have to pick them up all year as they stumble along.

    Oh and by the way… watched them do the Jets and Eagles last night…. Only a little as it was preseason and the college games were better, but I digress…. and they are not very good. Admittedly, that was with a referee stand-in… But, this was not a fine effort by the zebras.

  3. The line judge is maintaining the line of scrimmage. Can’t use that blue line for reference, especially since you are dealing with local broadcast crews, not the network crews. Also, those lines have accuracy problems, especially as you move to the sidelines.

    By rule, any part of the quarterback must be on or behind the line when the ball is released. This can mean the entire body of the passer beyond the line, but his arm is back far enough that it is on the line. And, “beyond the line” would have to be perceptible in real time, as we aren’t measuring things with survey tools and electron microscopes.

    What this does, is it affords about an extra yard to the quarterback, but when he is throwing on the run, it would be incredibly risky to really test that. Given the angle that the LJ had (which is head on, compared to the camera which is stationed near the 20), I’m confident that Goff barely got it in, and there nothing that could conclusively lead to an overturn.

  4. In these cases, there is often a lot of flow in the form of large bodies headed at the LJ. My guess is that the LJ would need help from the HL on the other side of the field who could use the down box as a gauge. There is really no other way to spot where the LOS is in real time.

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