Season 104 is upon us! The excitement all teams feel in Week 1 is the same excitement NFL officials feel as they take to the field to call one of the most difficult games on the planet. As the game kicks off, here is what I’m looking for as I zebra watch in 2023.
1. New white hat
Alan Eck (pictured above) is a new referee in 2023. He replaces Jerome Boger, who retired last year. Eck wears number 76 (the first referee to wear that number). He has worked in the NFL as a field judge and umpire before being assigned to the referee position. Rookie white hats and not eligible for a playoff game, but we will watch his progress with great interest.
2. How prevalent will pushing the quarterback be this year?
Last year, several teams adopted a strategy of pushing the quarterback when he sneaks the ball for a first down or a touchdown. Pushing the runner is legal. Pulling or carrying the runner is illegal, and a helping the runner foul.
This actually turned out to be an effective strategy as teams got several first downs by pushing the pile. This play will create challenges for the officials. They must rule that the pushing action is legal. Then, they will have to spot forward progress while the ball is in the middle of a mass of humanity.
In the NFL, many teams copy strategies. I predict pushing the pile will be the latest “in” thing this year.
3. Teams can fair catch a kickoff and start at the 25-yard line
This year, the NFL is adopting the NCAA rule that allows a receiver to fair catch a kickoff. If the receiver fair catches a kickoff anywhere between the endzone and the 25-yard line, by rule it is a touchback and the offense can start their possession at the 25. So, the receiver can make a fair catch on the one-yard line and then put the ball in play at the 25.
This rule has been in college for several years and teams seem to like it.
It will be interesting to see this new rule in the NFL this year.
4. Replay official in an expanded role
For the past two seasons, NFL replay officials have been assisting the officiating crew between 40 and 20 seconds on the play clock. This will usually be assisting the crew on a spot or some other easily correctable call. Each year, however, more is added to the plate of the replay official and the replay assistant.
If done correctly, this should seamless and barely noticeable. Any activity that helps the officials get the call right quickly and efficiently is good for the game. The key is whether it is consistently applied.
5. And finally the “kiss of death” Super Bowl guesses
Every once in awhile I guess one of the seven positions correctly for the Super Bowl.
But, usually not. But, I like to guess anyway. So, here is my Super Bowl LVIII officiating crew prediction.
- Referee – John Hussey #35
- Umpire – Paul King #121
- Down Judge – Dana McKenzie #8
- Line Judge – Tim Podraza #47
- Field Judge – Mearl Robinson #31
- Side Judge – David Meslow #118
- Back Judge – Terrence Miles #111
As the late, great Red Cashion said after conducting every coin toss: “Gentlemen, let’s play football!“