This presented a couple of problems. One, smartypants offenses often took advantage of the older gentleman's positioning, using him to set a screen for receivers running crossing routes across the middle of the field. A receiver would run by him, and unless he wanted to kill an old man, the defender would have to adjust his position, letting the receiver get a little more open.
And a few times a year, we'd end up with a defenseless umpire getting crunched between two behemoths in full body armor. It wasn't an ideal situation.
So this year, the NFL has decided to move the umpire to a new position: 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, on the offensive side. Behind the quarterback, behind the running backs, and out of harm's way. Problem solved, right?
Problem not solved, according to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning(notes) and general manager Bill Polian. Their complaints are highlighted in the Monday Morning Quarterback column by Peter King at SI, and they're pretty valid.
In their last preseason game against the Packers, the Colts were whistled for two "snap infringement" penalties. Under the new rules, the offense has to wait for the umpire to get into position before it snaps the ball. But now, it takes longer for the official to get into position, so if a team's trying to get a play off in a hurry, they're either going to have to sacrifice a couple of seconds, or risk a penalty.
Said Manning (via King):
"Let's chart all the comeback wins where a team runs the hurry-up in the fourth quarter. How many of those games would have ended up the same way -- or would the quarterbacks have had enough time to run enough plays to come back and win?''
And Polian (again, via King):
"I am dead-set against the penalty,'' said Polian. "It is insane. If I knew it would be this way, I'd have voted against it, and not only that, I'd have crusaded against it.''
They're fair points, and yeah, there will be times when the new rules hamstring an offense. But before we act like an irreparable hole has been torn in the NFL universe, let's allow a little time for adaptation. It's a new rule. There are kinks to be worked out. It will take a little time, and perhaps a minor adjustment or two, before the new system works smoothly. But we'll get there.
In the long run, it's a small price to pay to keep umpires from being trampled.
- Bill Polian