Peyton Manning complained, the NFL listened and now the league is making additional tweaks to the umpire rule.
All 32 teams were told in a memo from the league Tuesday that the umpire will position himself 12 yards from the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped instead of approximately 15 yards, which was used during the preseason. The umpires must now only get beyond the deepest running back — not established in position — before the ball can be snapped.
The changes should make it easier for teams to use the no-huddle offense. That should please Manning, who expressed his frustration after an Aug. 26 loss at Green Bay.
"The one (illegal snap) on me I thought was ridiculous, down there by the goal line when you're snapping the ball to keep them from potentially getting a replay," Manning said then. "Also, they (umpires) are unsettled. To throw a 5-yard penalty is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion. So I think that's one thing that will be re-evaluated — at least a do-over of some sort, or a warning. But a 5-yard penalty? That's ridiculous."
The league apparently agreed.
Officials will now have the discretion to issue a warning before enforcing the 5-yard penalty for an illegal snap. Clear violations, the memo said, will continue to be penalized without a warning.
Umpires also will continue to be positioned in the middle of the defense, their old position, during the final two minutes of the first half, the final five minutes of the game and when the offense is at, or inside, the opponent's 5-yard line. The league made that change for last week's preseason finales.
The memo also points out that the head linesman or line judge can signal when the ball can be snapped instead of having quarterbacks checking with referees, something that was changed after the league's competition committee approved the new rule in March.
League officials have repeatedly cited safety concerns as the reason for moving umpires behind the deepest running back, saying statistics showed a significant increase in the number of collisions and injuries incurred by umpires.
"It reached the point where the league office thought that the physical danger out there and the safety of the umpire was becoming an issue, so we changed his position," Colts president Bill Polian said recently. "We recognized that there would be, A, mechanical issues, and B, issues with respect to certain penalties that might or might not be called based upon the new position."
But after Manning insisted changes were needed, Polian said they were solvable.
Now the four-time league MVP and Polian are willing to see if this works.
"We'll see," Manning said last week during the annual bowling tournament he hosts to raise money for the Peyback Foundation.
The league said referees and umpires will meet Friday in Dallas to review the preseason and the mechanics of the changes to the umpire rule. The officials for Thursday night's opener will review the material during a conference call this week.
Manning was not available Tuesday, the Colts' regular off-day, but is expected to comment on the changes Wednesday. Polian declined to comment.
(This version CORRECTS New approach. Corrects umpires being placed in old spot during final five minutes of game last week. Updates with Polian declining comment; Add photo links)