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NFL tweaks umpire positioning again

The NFL’s decision to move the umpires from the defensive side of the field to the offensive side of the field is looking more and more like a decision made in haste, without thinking through all the ramifications. And so today -- two days before the start of the regular season -- comes word that the league has tweaked the rule again.

Today the league office sent all 32 teams a memo explaining that the umpire will now be 12 yards from the line of scrimmage, not 15 yards. In theory, that means it shouldn’t take the umpire quite as long to spot the ball before each play, get back into position during the play, and then go spot the ball again as soon as the play ends.

The league also said the head linesman or line judge will signal when a snap can occur, and the quarterback can then call for the snap as soon as he sees that signal. And now umpires will move back to the old position on the defensive side of the field during the last two minutes of the first half, the last five minutes of the second half and any time a team is at or inside the defense’s 5-yard line.

All of these changes seem like marginal improvements, but none of them changes the problem that the Colts had in their third preseason game, when they were twice flagged for illegal snaps because they started a play before the umpire got behind the deepest offensive player. That rule remains in place.

And so teams running a hurry-up offense will have to hope the umpire hustles after spotting the ball. And fans who enjoy fast-paced football will have to hope the new positioning of the umpire doesn’t change the game as much as it looks like it could.