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NFL officiating gets ready for the season at their first in-person clinic in 2 years

Officials return to their annual in-person clinic, which means the offseason is finally coming to an end



As predictable as the cliff swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano and the wildebeest stampeding across the Serengeti, another annual migration is noted for bringing a long suffering end to the football offseason: the zebras converging on Dallas in July. In what could be described as the NFL officials’ three-day training camp, the league is conducting their annual officiating clinic in the Dallas area starting today.

The coronavirus pandemic obviously closed down the prospect of having the usual in-person event in 2020, so this is a return to an old routine for veteran officials, and a first for 11 officials starting their second season, and one starting her first. It is also the first time that Walt Anderson will be at the clinic in the front of the room and not at a table with his crew. Anderson was hired as senior vice president of officiating, as was former coach Perry Fewell in 2020. They share that title with Al Riveron. Anderson has assumed most of the officiating-specific duties, with Fewell handling coaches’ communications and the office administration and Riveron responsible for replay.

Two major changes this year will take center stage at this year’s clinic. The first will be to cover the rule changes this year, including the little-noticed low block rule. Officials will be reviewing the impact of this rule and how to properly officiate it. I would expect a session devoted specifically to this rule would be in order.

The second major change involves replay. We already know that the replay official will have an expanded authority to issue corrections to the field without a stop-down replay review in certain circumstances of really clear, don’t-waste-time-going-under-the-hood visual evidence. The mechanics of when an how that happens will be thoroughly decided, because there is an impact to the coach’s challenge system and it is imperative that it is handled consistently. Additionally, all of the replay officials will be trained on new replay equipment, as the league is scrapping it’s internally developed proprietary NFL Vision system to a system sold by Hawkeye, according to sources. This will be the replay crew’s first trial of the new NFL system.

The clinic typically covers the film study and discussion over the first two days, including position-specific breakout sessions with an officiating supervisor or position coach. Sunday is usually reserved for conditioning drills and fitness evaluations.

Next stop for the officials is to visit training camps to brief teams on the new rules. And, 2½ weeks after the clinic, everything transitions to the field with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

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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