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Ask Jerry Markbreit

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Jerry, I have noticed a few new head referees this season. Who are the new ones and whom did they replace? --Pete Walker, Chicago

You are correct. There are two new head referees for the 2006 Season, Jerome Boger and Gene Steratore. They replaced the retired Tommy White and Bernie Kukar. Both Tommy and Bernie have had very successful careers with the National Football League. It's nice to know that you are interested in the head referees and are aware of changes made in personnel.

In your last column you wrote about the two-minute and fourth-down fumble rule and said, "The reason for this rule is another story for another column. But you could ask me about it." OK, I'll ask. This seems like an odd rule to me, please explain. --Josh, San Diego

The reason for this fumble rule is to prevent a player from intentionally fumbling the ball forward in an attempt to avoid a loss of yardage or in an attempt to gain yardage. This rule prevents any unfair act that might result in an unfair advantage for a given team.

In the Week 2 Cowboys-Redskins game, there was a holding call against Washington OT Jon Jansen, but the flag was waved off because it was ruled DE Greg Ellis "ran through the hold." This is the first time I have ever heard such a thing in my 30 years of watching NFL football. Can you explain this ruling? --Rob, Charlotte, N.C.

Here's the rule pertaining to offensive holding in the NFL: "An offensive blocker may not use his hands or arms to materially restrict an opponent or alter the defender's path or angle of pursuit. Material restrictions include: grabbing or tackling an opponent; hooking, jerking, twisting, or turning him or pulling him to the ground." All of these situations have to have a definite impact on the play in order to be a foul. In the play that you describe, the fact that the defender ran through the attempted hold is the reason that the flag was picked up. This action had no material effect on the play.

When the Jets onside kicked vs. the Colts this weekend, the right footed kicker approached the ball from the left, and when he kicked the ball, at least half his body was across the line of scrimmage. Can the kicker not be considered offside on a kickoff? --Vince Weaver, Elkhart, Ind.

A player is offside when any part of his body or his person is beyond his scrimmage line, free kick line, or fair catch kick line when the ball is put in play. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule.

  • The snapper may be beyond his line provided his is not beyond the defensive line.
  • The holder of a place kick for a free kick may be beyond the free-kick line.
  • The holder of a fair-catch kick may be beyond the fair -catch kick line.
  • The kicker may be beyond the line but his kicking foot may not be beyond the line on a free kick. I know I have answered more than you asked, but I thought I would give you all situations pertaining to offside.During the Jacksonville-Redskins game, the Washington receiver stepped out of bounds before coming back into the field of play and catching a pass. The officials called an illegal touching penalty. However, the announcers said, "If he was forced out of bounds and re-established himself in the field of play, he could have been the first player to touch the ball." What is required for a player to establish themselves in the field of play? --Steven Kut, Bartlett, Ill.It is a foul for illegal touching if a forward pass, either legal or illegal, first touches or is caught by an eligible receiver who had gone out of bounds on his own or had been legally forced out. This player must, however, re-establish himself in the field by getting both feet down inbounds before touching the ball. If an eligible receiver is pushed out of bounds within the first five yards, he must not touch the ball until it has touched someone who is eligible or it is a foul for illegal touching. If he is pushed out beyond the five-yard zone, it is a foul by the defense for illegal contact and the player is eligible once he re-establishes.The commentators on college games have been mentioning the new timing rules that are meant to speed up the game. They seem to be saying that on a first down the clock is stopped but then restarted when the officials mark the ball ready for play. I thought that was already the rule. What changed? --Phil, Wheaton, Ill.You are correct. The college rule stopping the clock on all first downs when the clock is running and then restarting on the referee's ready-for-play signal is an old rule and has not been changed. The new rule is as follows: Whenever there is a change of possession, a punt, a kickoff, a pass interception or a fumble recovery, the clock is stopped according to rule. But when the referee gives his ready-for-play signal, the clock is started. This is a major change in the timing rule for college football and has resulted in faster games being played.Jerry, why does the NFL have two sets of chains on the field? --Ron Sybert, Joplin, Mo.The two sets of chains mirror each other and give the players the approximate distance to a first down, regardless of which side of the field they are looking at. The chains on the head linesman's side are the official markers, but the chains on the opposite side of the field chains are generally very close to the head linesman's chains.Is the spot of the ball still a challengable call? --Rusty, Bonita Springs, Fla.The spot of the ball or, in football terms, forward progress, is only challengable when the progress point involves a possible score or a possible first down. Any other time a coach feels that the spot is incorrect, he cannot challenge under the current replay system in the National Football League.During the Sunday's game between Dallas and Tennessee, the TV analyst pointed out that the Cowboys had a cooling device that pumped cold air under the pads of the players as they sat on the bench. He also noted that the Titans did not have such a device and their players seemed more fatigued as a result. It was my understanding that both teams in a contest had be equipped identically as not to create an unfair advantage for one team. Usually this falls on the home team to make sure the heated benches, cooling fans, locker room facilities, video replay and other equipment is provided evenly. Why is the visiting team allowed to bring a specialized piece of equipment like this? Does this not create an unfair advantage? Is the visiting teams budget the only limiting factor in having something the other team does not? --Marty C., Frankfort, Ill.The use of heated benches, cooling fans, and other aids such as these are strictly up to the teams that are playing. Some teams in extremely cold weather do not have heated benches in order to keep their players accustomed to the bitter cold weather while the other team enjoys sitting on a warm seat. I don't think this is a financial situation, but strictly something that the teams individually wish to do.Jerry, I was watching the Penn State-Northwestern game on Saturday when Penn State recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown. They were then flagged for excessive celebration. After review, the play was overturned and called an incomplete pass. However the referee still enforced the excessive celebration penalty and the 15 yards that goes with it. Why isn't the play dead once they rule it incomplete and everything after it is void? Would the defense be penalized in the same way if they had a block in the back on the return of a play that was overturned? --Greg Blecharczyk, ChicagoAll 15-yard penalties must be enforced, regardless of whether a play is reversed or not. This excessive celebration violated the unsportsmanlike conduct rule of the game and even though the play was ruled incomplete instead of a touchdown, the penalty was and should have been enforced. Any foul less than 15 yards, like a block in the back, would be disregarded and not enforced.
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