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NFL again tweaks positioning of umpires

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MICHAEL MAROT
September 7, 2010

The NFL heard Peyton Manning's complaints and responded with additional tweaks to the new umpire rule.


All 32 teams were told in a memo from the league Tuesday that the umpire will now position himself 12 yards from the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped instead of approximately 15 yards, which was used during the preseason.


Also, the head linesman or line judge can signal when the ball can be snapped instead of having quarterbacks checking with referees. And the umpire must only be beyond the deepest running back not established in position before the ball can be snapped.


The changes should make it easier for teams to use the no-huddle offense throughout the game, and satisfy Manning, who expressed his frustration with the rules change following an Aug. 26 loss at Green Bay.


"The one (illegal snap) on me I thought was ridiculous, down there by the goal line when you're snapping the ball to keep them from potentially getting a replay," Manning said then. "Also, they (umpires) are unsettled. To throw a 5-yard penalty is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion. So I think that's one thing that will be re-evaluated at least a do-over of some sort, or a warning. But a 5-yard penalty? That's ridiculous."


Apparently the league agreed.


Officials will now have the discretion to issue a warning before enforcing the 5-yard penalty for an illegal snap. Clear violations, the memo said, will continue to be penalized without a warning.


Umpires also will move to the middle of the defense, their old position, during the final two minutes of the first half, the final five minutes of the game and when the offense is at, or inside, the opponent's 5-yard line. That's a change from just last week when the NFL decided to place umpires in their previous spot for the final five minutes of each half.


In March, the league cited safety concerns as the reason for moving umpires behind the deepest running back. It cited statistics that showed a significant increase in the number of collisions and injuries incurred by umpires.


"It reached the point where the league office thought that the physical danger out there and the safety of the umpire was becoming an issue, so we changed his position," Colts president Bill Polian said Aug. 28. "We recognized that there would be, A, mechanical issues, and B, issues with respect to certain penalties that might or might not be called based upon the new position."


But after Manning insisted changes were needed, Polian told reporters they were solvable.


Now the four-time league MVP and Polian are willing to see if this works.


"We'll see," Manning said last week during the annual bowling tournament he hosts to raise money for the Peyback Foundation.


The league said referees and umpires will meet Friday in Dallas to review the preseason and the mechanics of the changes to the umpire rule. The officials being used in Thursday night's season opener will review the material during a conference call this week.


Manning was not available Tuesday, the Colts' regular off-day, but is expected to comment on the changes Wednesday. Polian did not immediately respond to an interview request left with the team's public relations staff Tuesday.



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