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Who could we see as an emergency referee this weekend?

A breakdown of some of the candidates who may step in as a deputy referee this weekend.



The NFL has created a contingency plan to promote an official from the Referee Training Program to the referee position for Week 17 action in the event that multiple referees cannot fulfill their duties due to covid-19-related policy adherence. This has lead many to speculate who are the likely candidates to heed the call to don the white hat this weekend. In the past few offseasons, we have predicted future referee promotions based on collegiate experience and preseason tryouts, but this year, anything goes.

In a typical season, each crew designates an “emergency referee” who would step in and lead the crew in the event that the referee cannot work the game, or is injured during the game and cannot continue officiating. The “emergency referee” is not an official title and can vary year by year. However, this season, where crews were changed last minute to keep geographic location in mind, it is unknown as to who is the emergency referee on each crew.

Nevertheless, we are likely to see a new white hat this weekend, perhaps more. Here are some of the officials that may be in the running for an emergency referee assignment in Week 17.

Jonah Monroe

Side judge Jonah Monroe is the likely choice to fill in as an emergency referee this weekend. Currently in his 6th season as a side judge, Monroe tried out for the referee position as part of the Referee Training Program in the 2019 preseason.

Monroe worked in the American Athletic Conference in college, mostly as a deep wing. He worked a few non-conference, early-season games as a referee in college. We pegged Monroe as a possible future referee following the 2018 season. With multiple swing deep wing officials this season, the officiating triumvirate could pull from the swing bench in order to hold Monroe’s place, while Monroe can fill in as an emergency referee.

Don Willard

Side judge Don Willard, in his 3rd season, is also next in line for a white hat, along with Monroe, and could potentially see action this weekend at the referee position. Willard also participated in a preseason referee tryout in 2019, and has collegiate experience in the Big Ten Conference. Also being a deep wing official, Willard could easily be covered by the other deep wings on the swing bench.

Tra Blake

Side judge Tra Blake was hired this offseason in the first wave of hires prior to the covid-19 opt outs. Although he has no experience as an NFL referee in any capacity, Blake served as a referee in both the Alliance of American Football in 2019 and the XFL in 2020. Both leagues used modified-NFL rules. If he is not a part of the Program already, it is likely that Blake will become part of it soon, and could see NFL white hat action as early as this weekend.

Officials who have had a previous preseason referee tryout

Umpires Barry Anderson and Fred Bryan, and back judge Scott Helverson are the only other active officials who have previously tried out at the referee position in a prior season for potential future promotion. Helverson tried out in the 2014 preseason, Bryan in 2015, and Anderson has actually tried out four times: in 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. They may be a bit lower on the depth chart, but they are still on the radar as having limited prior experience.

Officials who participated in the 2015 emergency referee preseason experiment

In the final week of the 2015 preseason, all of the “emergency referees” on each crew practiced at the referee position, while the entire crew worked on 6-man mechanics in the case of the referee not being able to officiate or complete officiating the game. Again, this list changes year to year, but the following officials worked snaps at the referee position in the 2015 experiment, or are confirmed “emergency referees”:

      Yrs 2020 crew College Occupation
U 131 Mark Pellis 7 Torbert Allegheny financial advisor
DJ 91 Jerry Bergman 19 Wrolstad Robert Morris sales executive
LJ 65 Walt Coleman IV 6 Rogers Southern Methodist portfolio manager
LJ 84 Mark Steinkerchner 27 Smith Akron vice president
FJ 15 Rick Patterson 25 Anderson Wofford banker
BJ 30 Todd Prukop 12 Corrente Cal State-Fullerton medical sales representative
BJ 119 Greg Wilson 13 Cheffers USC retired police officer

Hopefully, all officials will remain in good health and this contingency plan will not need to be carried out. However, in the event that its implementation is necessary, remember these names; you may see them in a white hat this Sunday.

Cam Filipe is a forensic scientist and has been involved in football officiating for 12 years. Cam is in his fourth season as a high school football official. This is his ninth season covering NFL officiating for Football Zebras.

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