Last weekend, members of the Jeff Triplette officiating crew had a presentation for players and the media to discuss the NFL rules changes. To both the players and the media, it had the smell of high school detention.
The Breakfast Club was in session as the principal and his vice principals read the rules of conduct to the players and, in a separate session, the media – highlighting new rules and reinforcing what is and isn't allowed on the field in terms of flagrant hits.
Triplette played the role of principal in laying down the rules. While we weren't privy to the questions asked by players about the rules changes and the application of the rules, Triplette and his crew opened the floor to questions from the media and gave some insight into the thought process of the officials.
Triplette and his crew laid down the law as it pertains to this season, saying that the biggest change fans will notice is going to be that each called scoring play will be put through an automatic replay process, meaning coaches won't be able to challenge a touchdown call until it is confirmed or denied.
"If we rule touchdown, field goal, safety – anything of that nature – if the officials on the field rule that it is a score of some type, the only person that can review that is the replay official," Triplette said. "The coach can't throw the flag to challenge it to give you more time. What our procedure will be in that situation – and we're still working it out – is replay is going to review it and, before we go for the try [extra point] or before we kick off after a safety, the replay official will review the play and either confirm it or buzz me to come over [to review the play]. We will not do anything until we get confirmation."
They said the rules also apply to plays in which, for example, a defense jumps offside on a hurry-up play to stop the clock and give more time for a review by coaches. If a penalty stops the clock, so does the opportunity to challenge a play.
While player safety was the mantra of the meetings with the team, the safety of the officials came into question. Jeff Rice, who is the umpire on Triplette's crew, was asked about the move of the umpires from behind the defense to behind the offense. The result has been an acceptable failure rate on missing one key call.
"You do get a better look because you get a better angle (from the new umpire positioning) and you're not worried about self-preservation as much," Rice said. "The one thing that we do not see as well – and they know it – is defensive holding. We've discussed that with them and I think the league has just made a policy decision that, for safety reasons, if we miss some of those (penalties), so be it."
The officials went off script when the background for the change was discussed. Rice was asked if teams used the umpires as a pick, which often seemed to be the case.
"Absolutely they were," Rice said.
Triplette jumped in to give the official party line, saying that the safety of umpires was what moved the decision, not necessarily offenses using them as an extra blocker.
"It is a safety issue,' Triplette said. "If you've seen over the years the hits that some of umpires have taken – I mean some pretty vicious hits – and sometimes it's just they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. These guys are just so fast and so big now, you don't want to get hit – even if it's by accident."
Seeing as Rice was in the line of fire, it seemed to make more sense for him to respond to the question, which he eventually did – saying he was often used to help free up a receiver on drag routes five yards down the field.
"They do use as a pick," Rice said. "It's a planned play. They'll try and rub the back off us to open the guy. I will tell you that I've been in this league for 17 years and I expect to go down three or four times a year. It's part of the game. It is what it is. That's why there aren't a lot of (officials) that want to go in the middle. I didn't go down at all last year. It's safer."
With the increases in numbers of players deemed defenseless, which now includes punters, kickers and quarterbacks after turnovers in which they aren't actively trying to make a tackle.
A year ago when the players were shown a video of what hits are deemed illegal, there were a lot of hoots and chuckles at some of the more vicious hits. This time around? No laughs and the only questions brought up was about hitting players in "the strike zone." While some may object to the changes and all will object to the fines, the officials believe the rules changes for 2011 are going to make the game safer and that players are changing their ways as a result of the new rules.
"I think the players are changing," Triplette said. "You saw it last season. They're absolutely changing. You're seeing guys talking about the aiming point. They're changing. You talk to coaches, you talk to the players, they are adjusting."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Replay, safety the target of officials
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