The most obvious effect on the 2020 season that the pandemic has had, aside from having dozens of players choose to opt out, is the simple fact that teams did not have an opportunity to gather and train throughout the offseason. Corresponding, we expect that to be reflected in the quality of play during the year, especially early on and among young players.
But the players are not the only group that has been affected. Every aspect of the game will have been impacted, including the officials, several of whom have also chosen to opt out of the season, and it’s fair to wonder what kind of effect the limitations of the officiating group will have on the season as well.
One of the officiating crews’ chief responsibilities during the offseason is to travel to training camps to work with teams for a period of days, for, among other things, the purpose of getting them comfortable and up to speed with that year’s new rule changes and points of emphasis.
They won’t have that this year. but Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t seem overly concerned about that, even if he usually talks every other year about the value of those days. Instead, he says, it falls on the coaches to pick up whatever slack left behind.
“We are missing the points of emphasis that they annually bring when they do come”, he said. “We have videos that we have been showing that have been sent to us from the officiating department that aid us in that. But largely, that education and those points of emphasis for 2020 must be revealed and reinforced in our coaching, the technical coaching as it pertains to play in specific areas of positions. That is our approach to it. It is a teach thing for us. It’s handled not only on the grass, but in the classroom as well”.
Through the first half of the season, the Steelers were among the most highly-penalized teams in the NFL last year, though they were able to get it under control over the second half of the year. A lot of those penalties came on special teams, and they have a lot of turnover in that area this year.
The coaches will have to work extra hard with the players to prepare them for the rules of the game, something that I hope they were using their time doing throughout the offseason, since they didn’t have the on-field portion of the work to worry about.
Playing penalty-free football is one of the most basic things you can do to help your team out, especially the avoidance of pre-snap penalties that are completely self-inflicted wounds, like false starts, offsides, illegal shifts, and things of that nature. Basic things that should almost never happen.