An illegal snap penalty called on the Colts during Thursday night’s game in Green Bay demonstrated a potentially significant problem with the NFL’s decision to move the umpires across the line of scrimmage to the offense’s side of the field.
The league moved the umpires out of concern for their safety — in the past, umpires lined up near the inside linebackers, right in the middle of the action, and sometimes that meant the umpires got trampled. Starting this season, the umpire lines up behind the running back.
Unfortunately for the Colts, the umpire is the official who spots the ball, and the offense can’t snap the ball until after the umpire has had time to put the ball in place and move back into position. For a no-huddle offense, that can present a serious problem — as it did when Peyton Manning called for the snap Thursday night before umpire Garth DeFelice was in place.
The referee ruled that the Colts were at fault for snapping the ball too soon, but Manning complained about the call, and ESPN announcers Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski both said DeFelice — and the new rule — were to blame.
“Being an umpire is not for
everybody,” Gruden said, suggesting that the pudgy DeFelice wasn’t moving into position quickly enough. “They’ve got to go back to where it was.”
Jaworski said that if the NFL wants to protect umpires they have to “get more athletic guys, and quite honestly, put a helmet on them.”
It’s probably safe to say that Colts President Bill Polian is calling the league office this morning and doing his best Rex Ryan impression. If the illegal snap rule continues to be applied that way all season, the Colts and their fans will drop plenty of “F” bombs this year.
But the NFL says the rule isn’t going away.
“The movement of the umpire to the offensive backfield will happen in the regular-season,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora told ESPN.com. “We continue to analyze and review the impact of the change in the preseason, and we may announce some tweaks to the mechanics of the position prior to the regular season, but the move is a definite.”
And anger about the move from Colts fans is a definite as well.