2016 Points of Emphasis
Within the six major points of emphasis for the 2016, there are focuses on player safety and competitiveness. Among the latter, presnap movement is a target area for officials to crack down on this season in order to limit potential advantages by offenses. As a result of the record-high 164 neutral zone infraction fouls called in the 2015 season, officials are being asked to pay close attention to quick and abrupt movements by the offensive linemen, mainly guards and centers, that simulate the start of the play.
According to Rule 7-4-2:
It is a False Start if the ball has been placed ready for play, and, prior to the snap, an offensive player who has assumed a set position charges or moves in such a way as to simulate the start of a play, or if an offensive player who is in motion makes a sudden movement toward the line of scrimmage. Any quick abrupt movement by a single offensive player, or by several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of the snap, is a false start.
Exception: This does not apply to an offensive player under the center who turns his head or shoulders, unless the movement is an obvious attempt to draw an opponent offside.
Item 1. It is a False Start if an interior lineman (tackle to tackle) takes or simulates a three-point stance, and then changes his position or moves the hand that is on the ground. An interior lineman who is in a two-point stance is permitted to reset in a three-point stance or change his position, provided that he resets prior to the snap. If he does not reset prior to the snap, it is a False Start.
This point of emphasis was heavily discussed by line of scrimmage officials at July’s officiating clinic in Dallas. “We’ve got to get everybody set. If the set is not checked, it’s a foul. If the feet are set, but they move their upper with twist and turns, it’s not a foul. It looks sloppy, but they are set,” Gary Slaughter, regional supervisor and former head linesman, said to line of scrimmage officials during the clinic.
Additionally, new language was inserted to address receivers motion prior to the snap. Essentially, a receiver commits a false start when he moves forward after the offense is set and “regardless of whether the action is quick and abrupt or slow and deliberate.” This has been interpreted that a receiver that is legally in motion laterally may move slightly towards the line, because his motion is largely side-to-side.
In addition to movement of the body, officials are instructed to monitor movement of the football that constitutes a simulated snap in an attempt to draw the defensive players offside. The change in the mechanic puts that responsibility on the line judges and head linesmen. With the line of scrimmage officials focused on the movement of the ball by the center, the umpires are now able to keep their eyes on the linemen’s bodies to watch for twitching, flinching, head bobbing, or any other abrupt action that constitutes a false start. “The movement of the ball responsibility is on us now,” Slaughter stated to the officials at the clinic. “Umpires are responsible for looking at the [offensive line]. With the [offensive linemen] being watched, the referees can now focus on the movement of the ball, when it was once difficult to monitor.”
As a reiteration of the exception to the rule above, any movement by a lineman that is neither quick nor abrupt is legal. This includes a center moving his head, a guard tapping the center, or any action as part of a silent count.
As is usually the case with points of emphasis, expect to see a plethora of presnap fouls called by line of scrimmage officials in order to limit these acts by the offense. By using this emphasis to eliminate potential deception by the offensive line, the letter of the law will be instilled into all players in order to limit fouls on both sides of the ball.