While much has been made over the perception that players like Tom Brady get more protection than the likes of Cam Newton, NFL officials claim that even if they wanted to, they don’t have the ability to give preferential treatment on the field.
Tadd Haislop of Sporting News went to the annual referees’ clinic in Irving, Texas this week to discuss the officiating of Newton in particular. While referees admit Newton is an exceptional player who is forcing them to alter the way they call games, they argue that with the speed of play, it’s impossible to make judgments based on who the player is.
“In real time, there’s not an ability to differentiate,” Referee Terry McAulay said. “You’re making a judgment in that instantaneous piece of time whether the rule has been violated. And that’s all you can do. We judge each play. It doesn’t matter who the player is. When we feel there’s forcible contact to the head, we’re going to call it.
“Do we get them all right? We never have, never will. (But) if you’re thinking about who it is, you’ve lost the battle.”
Since 2014, Newton hadn’t been the beneficiary of a roughing the passer penalty until he was awarded the call in a Week 12 loss to the Oakland Raiders last season, despite taking hits on a regular basis.
Referee Brad Allen recognizes that Newton is “an incredible athlete” who is “amping up” the game and says that his unique skill set forces officials to improve their training techniques.
“Certainly since he’s a more active player, it adds a dimension to his team that we have to watch versus a pocket passer who isn’t as mobile,” said referee Carl Cheffers. “Our rule is cover that activity, and we’re prepared to officiate those circumstances.”
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