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Movement of umpire could affect Pats’ passing game

08.09.10 at 2:22 pm ET
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FOXBORO — This season, the NFL has decreed the umpire will move from behind the defensive line to behind the offense. Given how the Patriots’ passing game has used the umpire in recent years, it could have an effect on how the New England offense operates.

Since arriving in Foxboro prior to the 2007 season, wide receiver Wes Welker has made his living going over the middle, scooting through a five- to seven-yard range just past the defensive line where the umpire has previously stood. And Welker is one of the best in the business at using the umpire as a pick to try and create separation from a defender.

“The Patriots do it all the time with [Wes] Welker,” NFL umpire Paul King told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette earlier this year. “They like to use [the umpire] as a pick.”

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Umpires have been in the line of fire recently, so the NFL has decided to move them from one side of the ball to the other. (AP)

However, this offseason the league decided to make the move after several umpires had been injured in recent years in collisions with players — there were more than 100 occasions last season when umpires were knocked down by players. That decision (as well as a variety of other points) were discussed by back judge Billy Smith and other officials who are part of a crew that’s in Foxboro for practices the next few days trying to educate players on the various rules changes.

Smith said players were fined last year because they thought players might have been targeting an official. He also said the movement would impact the flow of the game, probably slowing high-octane offenses down a bit.

“Let’s say an umpire is seven yards back on the defensive side, and you have a play for no gain, he walks up seven yards, spots the ball and backs out,” Smith said. “But now, he has to come in 15, spot it, and then back out 15.”

In addition, Smith said the move could result in more holding calls. He said he spoke with the umpire who worked Sunday night’s Hall of Fame Game.

“He told me saw much more back there than he had ever seen before [in back of] the defensive line,” Smith said. “He had five holding calls last night. He said, ‘I’ve never had five holding calls in a game before.’ That’s another impact.”

Read More: rules changes, training camp, Wes Welker,
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