NFL Referee Outlines New Rules on Taunting, Touchbacks, and Chop Blocks

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 21: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints looks at a replay with Referee Pete Morelli during a game against the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 21, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Florham Park, N.J.

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — It’s very rare you get to interview an NFL game referee. They are usually off-limits, but Breitbart Sports had a chance sit down with Pete Morelli, entering his 20th season as an official in the league, at Jets training camp recently to ask him about some of the new rules for the upcoming season.

DAN LEBERFELD: What are some of the new rules this year?

PETE MORELLI: Touchbacks will be brought back to 25 (yard-line) in an experimental year. Horse-collar (tackles) has been expanded to the back of the jersey, around the name plate, expanded from inside of the neck. They have removed all chop blocks from the game; it’s completely out of the game. There is potential for disqualification from the game for certain kind of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls – taunting, swinging and missing, kicking at someone, and abusive language. Any combination of three, two times in the game, would be a disqualification from the game. Those are new rules in the game.

Points of emphasis are low hits on quarterbacks (and) ball movement of the center. They had more defensive offsides last year, so they want to hold the center more accountable for the use of the ball. [Also], there is a legal [area] you can use the crown of the helmet, for a tackle within the tackle box. But using the crown of the helmet anywhere outside the tackle box will be a foul.

LEBERFELD: What qualifies as abusive language?

MORELLI: I would think taunting, threats, probably racial things.

LEBERFELD: How do you decide that as the language police?

MORELLI: That is a tough call. You tell them you heard something, and they knock it off, pretty much. It depends on where the escalation of that stuff goes. It’s a judgment.

LEBERFELD: How do you decide what is over the line and which is okay?

MORELLI: It depends how fast they break themselves up; how cooperative they are. It’s not the instant word, but the prolonged exchange of words that escalate.

LEBERFELD: Sometimes a player will push a guy after a play, and sometimes you guys are so busy, you won’t see the initial push, but will see the second swing. How do you deal with that, when guys say, “Hey, he pushed me, then I swung at him?”

MORELLI: That is a challenge we always have to see the entire act. When you have other officials on the field – we call them off-officials, in the area, you would hope have a better look. Our goal is always to work to get the instigator, get the first act. That is always the attempt.

LEBERFELD: What is your perspective on the new kickoff rule?

MORELLI: We don’t know. It’s hard to tell. Probably the most physical, violent act in the game is the kickoff; most concussions probably occurred last year during kickoffs, so they are trying to minimize them, by incentivizing putting the ball at the 25, but you never know. It’s kind of wait-and-see type of thing. It’s probably the hardest play to officiate. That is my point of view.

LEBERFELD: You mentioned an emphasis on watching the center’s ball movement related to defensive off-sides. Can you explain that a little more?

MORELLI: They saw more defensive offsides, a spike in that, so they attributed some of that maybe to the center moving the ball, jerking his head, moving abruptly. They have made the movement of the offense a lot cleaner. They have to be set for a full second. A little bit more [emphasis] on the offense to try and not get an advantage. Keep the game as fair as possible without advantages.

LEBERFELD: Can you further explain the new chop block rule. What could they do last year that they can’t do anymore?

MORELLI: Last year on runs, two linemen together could block high and low. You can’t chop at any time. Kicks, field goals, passes—it’s out of the game to eliminate potential knee injuries. There were some severe injuries with that.

LEBERFELD: With such an emphasis on head injuries and concussions, any new rules and regulations related to that?

MORELLI: They have added a doctor on the field. There are two doctors now. As referees we have to check with them prior to the game in our warm-ups to make sure we can communicate with them. So instead of having one, there are two. They expect us too to be very vigilant in our job if we recognize someone is concussed, stop the game and get them out. Or if you even consider them (as possibly concussed), stop the game and get them out.