A crew of NFL officials just visited with reporters here at Olivet Nazarene University. We watched a video that, once again, emphasized player safety and sportsmanship. I like some of the new additions and emphases, including the ones that further discourage dangerous hits -- on offense or defense -- to defenseless players.
But I was intrigued by a rule designed to protect referees, particularly the ones in the middle of the field, on the defensive side of the ball. They will now be repositioned on the offensive side of the ball because of a few incidents in which refs have gotten smashed by players.
But referee Garth DeFelice said there is a downside to the change.
"It's problematic. The potential for defensive holding to go up is good," he said.
DeFelice said teams have umpire "pick plays" in which the offense tries to use those refs. Teams obviously don't advertise that, but it's been obvious in recent years.
Another challenge could affect the Bears special teams, one of the best units in the NFL. The NFL's Competition Committee has expanded a rule that during field goals and punts, a defensive player within a yard of the line of scrimmage must not have his shoulder inside the snapper's shoulder pads. The rule last year was that a player could not have his helmet with the snapper's shoulders. Now, essentially, a player could only get away with a leg.
That buys the team snapping the ball a split second, which could mean fewer blocks. But it will be hard to police on punts, because no ref will be in the backfield.
"It's almost like an honor system," former official Jerry Seeman said.
"And I'm sure they'll (abide by) an honor system," he said sarcastically.
This crew will meet with players at a later time.