Reporting from Foxborough, Mass.
Game officials have a three-day assignment at each camp to work practices and to review new rules and points of emphasis for the upcoming season. Players and coaches are given the opportunity to grill the officials assigned to their camp on the finer points of the rule changes. In the last few years, the NFL has allowed officials to speak to the media at this time to give insight on the rules changes and give the press a rare chance to ask questions to the officials.
As part of a three-day appearance at training camp at Gillette Stadium, referee Pete Morelli addressed the Patriots’ questions. Football Zebras attended the media session.
Morelli began the presentation by introducing his crew and then he showed a video produced by the officiating department that detailed the rules changes and points of emphasis for this season for players and coaches.
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Following the video, Morelli answered a variety of questions. One hot topic of discussion was the new celebration rules. “We used to need a Rolodex to figure out what they could and could not do,” joked Morelli, “and now it seems like, we can kind of almost figure out you can use the ball, can’t do anything violent, can’t do anything not respectful, so, pretty much simple.” Morelli explained that since the league has allowed more kinds of celebrations, it will be interesting to see how creative players will be and how these new allowances may need to be tweaked in the future. “We don’t anticipate too much in preseason but when the games start, we’ll see what happens.” Morelli stated that there is no time limit on celebrations, but the play clock will be a factor. Previously, the play clock would begin when the referee gives the ready-for-play signal prior to the try, but now, the play clock will start running after the touchdown signal is given. “On the touchdown, it’ll start when the signal is given by the scoring official and his hands come down. On a try, it’ll be by the referee, when his hands come down after the try is good.”
Another topic of discussion was the new rules regarding crackback blocks. The modification prohibits all crackback blocks within five yards on either side of the line of scrimmage, which now includes blocks by backfield players in motion at the snap. Side judge Boris Cheek clarified the current and existing rules requiring where crackback blocks can and cannot occur. “We still have a 5-yard [zone] on either side of the line of scrimmage which applies to crackbacks. So, if the crack is 8 yards downfield, it’s a legal crack.”
In response to an intentional safety in Baltimore last season and a triple-holding play by the 49ers, a new rule has been instituted that prohibits multiple fouls on a single play to run time off of the game clock. “If there were multiple fouls — you know, a lot of times there are two fouls on a play — but they’d have to be deemed by the officials that it was to manipulate the clock,” Morelli said. “So, there’s a little interpretation on that.” Morelli also explained that the clock will be reset to the time it showed at the snap if this foul occurs. If there were fouls by both teams, the fouls would offset, but the clock would still be reset.
Morelli also spoke a lot about the new replay process for the upcoming year. The final decision on all replay reviews will come from a designated member of the officiating department in New York. Also, gone are the days of “under the hood” reviews. A handheld tablet will be brought out on the field for the referee to view. “There will be two sets on each 20-yard line, and I go to where the nearest 20 is. They walk out halfway between the numbers and the hashmarks and I just go over there and look at it.” Morelli also joked that he does not need reading glasses to see the tablet. “Trust me, I can see it,” he said with a chuckle.
Morelli said that there will be a dry run approximately two hours prior to each game, where, in addition to a pregame microphone check, the referee can also practice with the new replay equipment. With the increased pace that these new reviews have, Morelli revealed that referees will not have to wait for a commercial to end before announcing the ruling on the field. “We can make our announcement to the stadium, which they see the play anyways, immediately if we come out really fast. Then we’ll just come out and get the ball ready for play right when TV says they’re out. So, there’s a little more pace to the game.”
Pete Morelli and his crew will be working the Thursday night contest in New England between the Jaguars and Patriots, and hopefully everything will run smoothly with all of these new rules in effect.