With no preseason, officials using new science to improve

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The NFL put longtime referee Walt Anderson in charge of training and development of officials this offseason, and he’s trying some new methods to improve things without any live reps.

Anderson told Peter King of NBC’s Football Morning in America that after 24 years as an official, he was tasked with bringing a new approach to calling games. With the continued turnover in the professions (including 11 new officials among their 117 this season), an updated way of teaching could be just what’s needed.

“When I was hired,” Anderson said “we knew we had to take a fresh look at officiating the game in terms of mechanics.”

That began with talking to experts in the fields of vision and mental processing, and bringing a new method that involves the vestibulo-ocular reflex, which relates to the ability to focus one’s eyes when the head is moving (Of course). In short, he’s asking some officials to be farther away from the action to get a better look at it.

“If your eyes are bouncing around and you’re trying to see something very specific, you’re exceeding the threshold of being able to see things clearly,” Anderson said. “The biggest change is we will be on the move less when critical moments of a play happen. By moving less, it should increase the ability to see a play more clearly.”

Anderson admitted “the reaction was mixed,” as he worked with officials via Zoom this offseason.

“But this is science, not hocus-pocus,” he said. “The military uses this. Law-enforcement has used this.

“I’m very confident it will pay dividends for us.”

The biggest problem is that he’s trying to implement the plan while not being able to test it on the field until the start of the regular season. Without preseason games or the ability to work out the kinks in training camps (officials were banned from camps as part of the efforts to protect against COVID-19 outbreaks), this week will be a major test for the league’s officiating department.