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NFL moves umpires to offensive backfield

Umpires in the NFL are on the move.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN is reporting that the NFL will permanently reposition umpires to the offensive backfield starting this year.

The change is being made for the safety of the umpires, who in the past had lined up on the defensive side of the ball, in the middle of the field and four or five yards from the line of scrimmage. Of the seven members of the officiating crew, the umpire has traditionally been the one at greatest risk of getting hurt in collisions over the middle.

Moving umpires will also prevent receivers from using them to help set picks on routes over the middle, something that umpire Paul King recently said the Patriots do regularly with Wes Welker.

Mike Pereira, the league’s outgoing vice president of officiating, has long expressed concern about the safety of umpires. He and his successor, Carl Johnson, told Mortensen of the league’s plans on Sunday. They said the competition committee had unanimously endorsed the move, which requires the approval of Commissioner Roger Goodell but does not require a vote of league owners.

Pereira said two NFL umpires suffered concussions in on-field collisions in 2009, and three suffered injuries serious enough to require surgery. Johnson said the league will re-train umpires at offseason seminars.