Jerry Markbreit's answers

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I love your column and your style, Jerry. In the Green Bay-Philadelphia playoff game, two Packers who were protecting wrist and hand injuries were playing with what I'd call a club on the end of their arm. How do the officials govern equipment rules before and/or during the game? Do injuries allow for use of special equipment based on their extent, or can any player use a "club", provided the equipment is within a general set of guidelines? --Dan Horton, Chicago

The NFL rules provide the following guidelines for officials, regarding the use of hard substances to protect injuries: "Hard objects and substances, including but not limited to casts, guards or braces for hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, hip, thigh, knee, and shin are all prohibited unless such items are appropriately covered on all edges and surfaces by a minimum of three-eighths inch foam rubber or any similar soft material. Any such item worn to protect an injury must be reported by the applicable coaching staff to the umpire in advance of the game and a description of the injury must be provided." The umpire is a member of the seven-man officiating staff, with total responsibility for injury and injury-covering situations. The protective wraps that you observed in the Philadelphia-Green Bay game were legal and approved by the officiating staff. I am so glad that you enjoy the column.

I was at the Bears-Redskins game this year and had sideline seats that were in the end zone only 5-6 rows up. Being that close, I noticed that all the officials make a number of pre-snap hand signals to each other (at least when they're in the end zone). What do all these signals mean? Does each crew have their own set of signals, or is it pretty standard across the NFL? Thanks -- great column! --Tim, Chicago

Before each snap of the ball, the three deep officials (field judge, side judge and back judge) all signal each other after they have counted the defensive team, making sure that there are only 11 men on the field. They have a specific signal when everything is OK, and another signal for a recount when one or more of them detects an infraction. The referee and umpire have an arm signal given to each other for the same purpose after counting the offensive team before each snap of the ball. There is no standardized signal for the described situations. Sign language is an integral part of football officiating. Thanks for the compliment.

Jerry, love your column. Please comment on a rule I feel is unfair. If a ballcarrier is hit at the 1-yard line and fumbles the ball and it crosses the goal line and goes out of bounds, the play is called a touchback and possession is given to the defense at the 20. No where else on the field does the opposing team gain possession if a ball is fumbled out of bounds. What is the rationale behind this rule? --Glen Eirich, Palatine, Ill.

When a ballcarrier fumbles a ball into an opponent's end zone and the opponent recovers the ball in the end zone or it rolls out of bounds, it is a touchback. This touchback awards the ball to the defensive team at their 20-yard line. The touchback rule is as old as the game; and, in my opinion, was put in to penalize any team that fumbles close to their opponents' goal line. This rule makes the game very exciting. If the ballcarrier had held on for one more yard, he would have had a touchdown. But, because he lost possession, he not only gave up the ball, he gave his opponents pretty good field position to start their drive. I am glad to hear that you enjoy the column so much.

Enjoy the column very much. Much has been made of the hit on Donovan McNabb in the Carolina-Eagles game. The league's response was that there was no late hit because the official could not determine if McNabb was down by contact previous to the hit. Contrast this to the situation three years ago when Hugh Douglas was levied a huge fine by the NFL for blocking Jim Miller after Miller threw an interception. Despite clear video evidence that Miller was hoping to make a tackle, thereby putting him at risk, the league said it must do everything to protect its quarterbacks. Yet, the league seems to be taking the exact opposite position in this case. What's going on? --Bob Walicki, Chicago

When Donovan McNabb went to the ground and was not ruled down by contact, he had every right to get up and proceed downfield. The defensive team has a right to contact any player not ruled down by contact. This was a legal hit and ruled correctly by the officials. The Jim Miller play was entirely different. Miller was moving slowly toward the action after the interception and was blindsided by an opponent, who, in the opinion, of the NFL, was doing more than just attempting to just block an opponent. Consequently, a fine was levied for this illegal action. I am glad that you enjoy the column.

I enjoy reading your column online as a former Chicagoan. Despite many compliments to officiating, both deserved and undeserved, we all know that officials make mistakes on penalty calls and non-calls. What is the leagues disciplinary action toward officials that make erroneous calls that can affect the outcome of a game? Players and coaches can be fined. Officials should be too. Thank you for your time. --Ron Hagmeyer, Golden, Colo.

NFL officials are graded on every call throughout the season. The officials with the highest grades work in the playoffs by crews. Eight crews out of 17 work all the playoff games. The penalty for making mistakes means the official does not work the playoffs. The officials in the NFL are the best in the land and work on a fulltime basis to maintain the highest standards. No one is perfect, and mistakes are made; they are all part of the game. The tone of your question makes me feel that you are not satisfied with the officiating in the NFL, and that, of course, is your right. Players and coaches are not fined for mistakes; they are fined for inappropriate actions that go against the nature of the game. During the 2003 NFL season, the percentage of accuracy for NFL officials was in excess of 97%.

I couldn't believe how the officials allowed the New England defense to play so physical against the Colts wide receivers in the AFC Championship game. The cornerbacks, linebackers and/or defensive ends were hitting them at the line and then again 10 or 15 yards down the field, totally screwing up their timing routes. Whatever happened to the illegal chuck rule? Is it still in effect? --Alan Parello, San Francisco

Nothing has happened to change the illegal chuck rule. The action by defensive backs in the AFC championship game was legal. You must remember that some contact can occur on the way downfield beyond the 5-yard zone, as long as it is not restricted. This is NFL smash mouth football, not the Ballet Russe.

My presumption is that no offensive player in the backfield can move forward before the snap. If that is correct, why is Peyton Manning allowed to step forward before the ball is snapped when he is in the shotgun formation? Is the rule different for the QB? Thanks, always enjoy reading your column. --Mike Richer, Oak Forest, Ill.

No offensive player in the backfield may be moving forward at the snap. Any of them may be moving forward slowly, prior to the snap, providing they stop for one full second before the play begins. Peyton Manning is allowed to step forward before the ball is snapped, as long as he is motionless when the ball is actually snapped. Quarterbacks are given a little leeway with regard to body movement; but, even they cannot be moving forward at the snap. Thank you for your nice compliment.

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