Officials' Responsibilities & Positions

The seven NFL officials on the field have specific roles and responsibilities that make it possible to correctly and consistently call games at football’s highest level. Proper training and positioning prepare officials to be in the right place to make the right call. Hover your cursor over the officials to see where they line up, what they watch for on every play and what they do between plays to keep the action moving.

Hover over an official's position to learn about their responsibilities.

Referee (R)

Position

  • Offensive backfield, right side of the formation, 15 yards deep and behind the normal Tight End position

General Responsibilities

  • Wears the white cap, known as the crew chief and leader of the officiating crew
  • Oversees everything related to the officials and maintains the pace of the game
  • Verbally and visually communicates all fouls
  • Counts the offensive players on the field
  • Determines first downs or if a measurement is necessary
  • Final authority on disputed rulings

Run Plays

  • Before the snap, watches for false starts by the QB and the Running Backs
  • Watches the Center, Right Guard, Right Tackle, monitors their actions and those of the defenders engaged with them

Pass Plays

  • Before the snap, watches for false starts by the QB and the Running Backs
  • Watches the Right Guard, Right Tackle and monitors their actions and those of the defenders engaged with them
  • Turns attention solely to quarterback as the defense becomes a threat
  • Primarily responsible for all action around and to the QB/Passer
  • Rules on Roughing the Passer, Offensive Holding, Pass/Fumble and Intentional Grounding

Special Teams

  • Kickoff – Lines up middle of the field between the hash mark on the receiving team’s goal line
  • Prior to the kickoff counts the receiving team and initiates the kickoff
  • Punt – Primary responsibility is the Punter
  • Field Goal/Point After Touchdown - Primary responsibility is the Kicker and Holder

Down Judge (DJ)

Position

  • On opposite sideline from line judge, looking directly down the LOS

General Responsibilities

  • Oversees LOS
  • Directs the chain crew
  • Watches for offside and encroachment
  • Rules on sideline plays on nearest half of field
  • Counts offensive players on field
  • Informs referee of the current down

Run Plays

  • Watches for false starts, offside or encroachment at line
  • Watches blockers and defenders on nearest side of field for any penalties
  • Monitors sideline on plays run to nearest half of field
  • Determines when and if runner is out of bounds
  • Marks runner’s forward progress

Pass Plays

  • Based on the formation they are responsible for specific receivers
  • If play goes into their vicinity, helps to rule on whether pass is complete or incomplete
  • Rules if receiver is in or out of bounds when catch is made
  • Rules on Offensive and Defensive Pass Interference, Defensive Holding and Illegal Contact of eligible receivers
  • Determines if pass is forwards or backwards on passes towards them
  • Makes sure passer is behind LOS when he throws ball

Special Teams

  • Kickoff – Positioned on the receiver’s goal line on the sideline
  • Prior to the kickoff counts the receiving team
  • Punts - Observes LOS for offside and encroachment
  • Field Goal/Point After Touchdown – Rules on false starts, offside or encroachment at line

Side Judge (SJ)

Position

  • Defensive backfield, 25 yards downfield from the LOS on the same side of the field as the down judge

General Responsibilities

  • Serves as the primary timekeeper if the game clock malfunctions
  • Watches receivers on their side of the field for illegal use of hands and blocking fouls, and for penalties on defensive back covering him
  • Watches sidelines to determine if runners are in or out of bounds
  • Counts defensive players on field
  • Signals referee when time expires at end of each quarter

Run Plays

  • Watches the blocks by receivers on their side of the field, looking for illegal blocks or holding by the receivers
  • If play goes to nearest side of field, helps determine if runner goes out of bounds

Pass Plays

  • Focuses on the receivers to their side of the field to make sure the player is able to run his route without defensive interference
  • If play goes to the SJ’s area, helps to rule on whether a pass is complete or incomplete
  • Rules if receiver is in or out of bounds at time of catch
  • Rules on Offensive and Defensive Pass Interference, Defensive Holding and Illegal Contact of eligible receivers

Special Teams

  • Kickoff – Lines up on the receiver’s back restraining line and ensures the receiving team is lined up by rule
  • Punts – Position 7-10 yards behind the receiver on the sideline
  • Rules on blocking during punts
  • Field Goal/Point After Touchdown - Defensive backfield, lines up seven yards off the line of scrimmage over the snapper, watches for snap infractions and illegal blocks

Back Judge (BJ)

Position

  • Deep defensive backfield, 30 yards downfield. Start between the hash marks

General Responsibilities

  • Counts defensive players on field
  • Keeps track of 40- or 25-second game clock and manages all television breaks

Run Plays

  • Starts in the middle and reads the initial action by the Left Guard, Center and Right Guard
  • Once a BJ reads run, they focus on the 1st level action looking for holding by the Defense
  • As the play progresses, they go to the 2nd level looking for holding by the Offense
  • Finally, they go to the primary threat of foul

Pass Plays

  • Once a BJ reads pass, they go to the #2 or #3 receiver based on the formation
  • Once the ball is released the BJ immediately goes to the where the pass is thrown
  • Decides if receiver made a legal catch
  • Rules on Offensive and Defensive Pass Interference, Defensive Holding and Illegal Contact of eligible receivers

Special Teams

  • Kickoffs – Lines up on the Kickers restraining line and ensures KO team is lined up correctly
  • Responsible for Kicking team not being offside prior to the kick
  • Punts – Position 7-10 yards behind the receiver between the hash marks
  • Rules on fair catch and fair catch infractions and all other rules that pertain to scrimmage kicks
  • Lines up under goal posts to rule whether field goals and extra points are good

Field Judge (FJ)

Position

  • Defensive backfield, 20 yards behind the LOS toward the same side of the field as the line judge

General Responsibilities

  • Watches receiver split widest on nearest side of the field for illegal use of hands and blocking fouls, and for penalties on defensive back covering him
  • Watches sidelines to determine if runners are in or out of bounds
  • Counts defensive players on the field

Run Plays

  • Watches widest receiver block, looking for illegal use of hands or holding
  • If play goes to nearest side of field, determines if runner goes out of bounds

Pass Plays

  • Focuses on widest receiver on nearest side of the field to make sure the player is able to run his route without defensive interference
  • If play goes to nearest side, rules on whether pass is complete
  • Rules if receiver is in or out of bounds when catch is made
  • Watches for pass interference

Special Teams

  • Rules on blocking during punts
  • Lines up under goal posts to rule whether field goals and extra points are good

Line Judge (LJ)

Position

  • On opposite sideline from down judge, looking directly down the LOS

General Responsibilities

  • Watches for offside and encroachment
  • Counts offensive players on the field
  • Rules on plays near the sideline on nearest half of the field

Run Plays

  • Watches for false starts, offside or encroachment at line
  • Watches blockers and defenders on nearest side of field for any penalties
  • Monitors sideline on plays run to nearest half of field
  • Determines when and if runner is out of bounds
  • Marks runner’s forward progress

Pass Plays

  • Based on the formation they are responsible for specific receivers
  • If play goes into their vicinity, helps to rule on whether pass is complete or incomplete
  • Rules if receiver is in or out of bounds when catch is made
  • Rules on Offensive and Defensive Pass Interference, Defensive Holding and Illegal Contact of eligible receivers
  • Determines if pass is forwards or backwards on passes towards them
  • Makes sure passer is behind LOS when he throws ball

Special Teams

  • Kickoff – Positioned on the receiver’s goal line on the sideline
  • Prior to the kickoff counts the receiving team
  • Punts - Observes LOS for offside and encroachment
  • Field Goal/Point After Touchdown – Rules on false starts, offside or encroachment at line

Umpire (U)

Position

  • Primarily in the Offensive backfield, opposite the referee, 15 yards deep and just outside the normal Tight End position

General Responsibilities

  • Reviews players’ equipment
  • Maintains control of the game by directly engaging and advising the players throughout the game
  • Counts the number of offensive players on the field
  • Marks off penalty yardage and ensures its accuracy
  • Digs in piles after fumbles to determine which Player/Team has possession

Run Plays

  • Before the snap, watches for false starts by the Center, Left or Right Guard
  • Watches the Center, Left Guard, Left Tackle, monitors their actions and those of the defenders engaged with them

Pass Plays

  • Before the snap, watches for false starts by the Center, Left or Right Guard
  • Watches the Center, Left Guard, Left Tackle, monitors their actions and those of the defenders engaged with them
  • Assists the Referee with ruling on action around or to the QB/Passer

Special Teams

  • Kickoffs – Lines up on the Kickers restraining line and ensures KO team is lined up correctly
  • Responsible for Kicking team not being offside prior to the kick
  • Punts - Positions a s few yards behind the Punter, as wide as the Left Tackle
  • Watches for infractions by the Center and two Guards
  • Field Goal/Point After Touchdown – Positions a few yards behind the Holder, to his right side
  • Watches for infractions in and around the strong side of the defensive rush
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