ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that the NFL will move the position of the Umpire from the defensive side of the ball to the offensive side. This change is a result of the increase on player/referee collisions that have taken place.
According to outgoing vice president of officiating Mike Pereira,
umpires -- who traditionally have been positioned on the defensive side, 4 or 5 yards from the line of scrimmage, just behind the linebackers and between the tackles -- were knocked down by players more than 100 times in 2009. Two umpires suffered concussions and three needed surgeries for knee or shoulder injuries.
The number of collisions for these referees is much too high. While the NFL has been busy protecting QBs, linemen, and everyone else, the referees seemed to have been forgotten. Not anymore.
This change will have an effect upon every team who passes across the middle- including the New England Patriots. Most teams utilize the Umpire as an object that needs to be avoided. Just like how teams use picks in the NBA, offenses were writing plays that involved creating space by forcing defenses to play around the Umpire. This led to collisions that could have easily been avoided.
Now that the Umpire is in the backfield, they:
will be re-trained at the league's offseason clinics and seminars because they will carry out their responsibilities from the offensive backfield, just opposite of the referee. Pereira and Johnson both said the umpires may have to be more athletic to accomplish their tasks.
As the league ushers in a new age of safety awareness, the game must continue to evolve- as players, coaches and, now, the referees must get a new hold on the game.
Let's hope Bill Belichick can stay ahead of the curve.