Referee: NFL catch call not that hard

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY - The majority of the football world has a difficult time understanding the full definition of a catch in the NFL, but one of the league’s long-time referees said the officials have very little trouble recognizing them.

Walt Coleman, in town with several other officials to work training camp and meet with the Green Bay Packers about 2016 rule changes, said in a session with reporters that officials know what is and isn’t a catch.

There have been numerous disputes over catches that were reversed when the receiver failed to maintain possession as he hit the ground, none more controversial than Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant’s grab in a 2015 playoff game at Lambeau Field.

The NFL changed the wording in the rule book this offseason to help clarify the rule, Coleman said it hasn’t changed anything for him or the other officials.

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“For us nothing has really changed,” Coleman said. “We understand what is and isn’t a catch. “Obviously, there’s been a lot of discussion everywhere else about what it is and what it isn’t, but I think for us, we’ve been pretty clear that basically you just need to hold onto the football when you hit the ground.”

Coleman said there are a number of grey areas that the rule presents, such as whether the player established himself as a runner before he went to the ground, but the officials have to make split-second decisions based on what they’ve been taught.

Where the controversy comes in is with instant replay.

“We’re just going to officiate the play like we have,” he said. “Replay makes it much more difficult because you can slow it down and make things look like whatever you want to make it look like.”

Coleman and the officials who joined him were in agreement that the Larry Fitzgerald catch that coach Mike McCarthy challenged in the Packers’ playoff loss to Arizona was legal. They felt he took several steps before going down to the ground and losing the ball, thus establishing himself as a runner.

Coleman and the other officials met with Packers players after showing them a video of five new rule changes and various rules emphases.

The new rules are:

  • All chop blocks are illegal.
  • Two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in which a punch has been thrown or abusive language used or includes taunting will be an automatic ejection if done in the same game.
  • The horse collar tackle has been expanded to include grabbing the nameplate of a player’s jersey.
  • Touchbacks will go back to the 25-yard line.
  • A delay of game penalty will be issued for a team calling a timeout when it has no timeouts left.

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