NFL moves umpires for safety's sake

Updated: March 22, 2010, 10:53 AM ET
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN

ORLANDO -- The NFL will permanently reposition umpires to the offensive backfield beginning with the upcoming 2010 season, in a move designed to protect its most vulnerable on-field officials, the league confirmed Sunday at the annual owners meetings.

Outgoing vice president of officiating Mike Pereira and his successor, Carl Johnson, revealed the plans Sunday in an interview. A league official added that the competition committee unanimously recommended the move last week but it had not been yet publicly announced.

The change does not require a vote of ownership and only commissioner Roger Goodell could reverse the decision.

Pereira said 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 No. 1 reason for change is safety," said Pereira, who retired after the 2009 season but will help Johnson with the transition through at least May 1.

Johnson said that umpires 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.

Chris Mortensen is a senior ESPN NFL analyst.