The NFL’s competition committee decided this spring to move the umpire from the defensive side of the ball, about five yards behind the line of scrimmage, to the offensive backfield, with the primary reason being the safety of the official. Umpires frequently found themselves in collisions with players, and several serious injuries occurred last season.
The move could negatively affect teams like the Patriots and Colts, who often utilize the hurry-up or no-huddle offense.
“The biggest impact is flow of the game,” back judge Billy Smith explained today. “For example, in hurry up, if it’s third and 12 with the Colts, the defense has the dime package on the field, they’re [Colts] trained to rush up to the line . . . with umpire up there, that’s probably not going to happen.”
The problem is the umpire used to be able to spot the ball at the end of a play and then back up a few yards. Now he may have to run in 15 yards to spot the ball and then run back out to re-assume his spot behind the offensive backfield. If the ball is snapped before he’s in place, it is a five-yard penalty. So offenses trying to catch the defense in personnel mismatches may no longer be able to pull that off.
Smith spoke to the umpire for Sunday night’s Hall of Fame game, Butch Hannah, and Hannah relayed that he saw so much more from his new position than he had been when positioned on the defensive side. He called five holding penalties, a higher number than usual.