The time for talking is over. The 2021 NFL regular season is here! As the NFL begins its 102nd season, here is what I’m watching as the game officials take the field and make sure the game stays fair.
1. Only one rookie this season
Six officials retired this season, but only one was hired – line judge Maia Chaka (number 100 in your program). The difference in ratio of retirements to hires is due to covid-19 last season. The NFL hired five extra officials last year to cover the 2020 covid-19 officiating opt-outs.
Also, there are no new referees this year, breaking the string of mass white hat retirements since 2018.
Overall, on paper, this is a more experienced officiating staff this season, with one rookie. Hopefully this more-veteran staff will step up and call good games this year.
2. New low block rules
This year, the NFL changed the rules further restricting a player’s ability to throw low blocks. The goal is to make the game safer and avoid leg and knee injuries. It can also help avoid head injuries as the blocker won’t impact a churning knee with his helmeted head.
While not a splashy rule, it will impact how the game is played. The offense will most certainly have to adjust its blocking schemes. I will be interested to see if a big gain or touchdown is called back early this season due to this new rule.
3. Crack down on taunting
The NFL issued a point of emphasis for this season, directing officials to flag players for unsportsmanlike conduct if they disrespect opponents between downs.
If a player disrespects or demeans an opponent during the dead ball period, it will cost their team 15 yards and counts toward their two-unsportsmanlike-conduct-fouls-for-ejection tally.
Demeaning and disrespectful actions and words raise the game temperature and could lead to more cheap shots and fights. This is a good point of emphasis, and I hope all players take this to heart and respect the game and their opponents this season.
4. Walt Anderson begins his second year at the helm
Al Riveron retired just before the start of preseason.
Russell Yurk has been re-assigned in the officiating office.
Walt Anderson and Perry Fewell remain, and will oversee centralized replay from the Art McNally GameDay Central.
After a pandemic year, Anderson can now dig in and mold the NFL officiating staff into his vision. When a new officiating boss comes into office, there are inevitable changes — some that are embraced by the employees and some that are not. I have no idea as to Anderson’s long-term plans for the NFL officiating (particularly playoff assignments), but it will be interesting to see.
5. Will covid-19 protocols come back?
While the delta variant is surging, the NFL plans on moving forward with fans in the stands and NFL officials able to blow air in their whistles and go without a mask.
The NFL is requiring all officials and staff to get a covid-19 vaccine. So, hopefully, officials will be able to work all assigned games and won’t have to go back to socially distanced officiating.
Super Bowl prediction
This is the section most NFL officials hate to see, as my Super Bowl crew prediction is usually the kiss of death. While I hit one out of seven officials maybe once every two years, I still stick with my tradition.
So, I predict the Super Bowl LVI crew will be:
|R||14||Shawn Smith||7||Ferris State||finance|
|U||102||Bruce Stritesky||16||Allen||Embry Riddle||airline pilot|
|DJ||6||Jerod Phillips||6||Rogers||Northeastern State||elementary school teacher|
|FJ||109||Dyrol Prioleau||15||Smith||Johnson C Smith||manager, law firm|
|BJ||111||Terrence Miles||14||Novak||Arizona State||quality control manager|
To quote the late, great referee Red Cashion, who dismissed the captains from the coin toss with this sentence, “Gentleman, let’s play football!”
Images: Football Zebras graphic, NFL officiating department video, Tampa Bay Buccaneers photo