Saturday, September 10, 2011

Head Linesman and Line Judge

We continue our look at exactly what those guys in black-and-white do on the field by putting a spotlight on the Head Linesman and the Line Judge.  Along with the Referee and Umpire, these officials are responsible for policing action before the snap and at the line of scrimmage.  And if you've ever wondered who those guys holding the big orange sticks are, you need to read the Head Linesman's job description.


1.       Position:  The Head Linesman (or “HL”) stands on one sideline (usually the sideline opposite the press box), straddling the line of scrimmage (LOS); he is looking straight down the space between the offensive and defensive linemen.  As the play develops, he will move up and down the sideline in the direction of the play, up to five yards past the line of scrimmage.*

2.       Responsibilities:

a.        The Head Linesman keeps track of the downs and is in charge of the chain crew, the group of three or more people that hold the 10-yard chain and other markers. 

                                                               i.      The chain has a tall orange stick at each end; the sticks have black stripes and a large circle at the top.  One stick is placed on the yard line where the new set of downs began; the other end is stretched out the full ten yards and is placed at the yard line to which the offense needs to get for the first down (i.e., the line to gain).  When a first down is achieved, the HL marks the spot and the chain crew moves the first stick to that spot and the chain is stretched out again; this procedure is repeated for each new first down. 

                                                             ii.      The down marker is another tall stick with a board at the top that is changed on each play to indicate the down.  It is placed at the current LOS.

                                                            iii.      The loneliest guy on the chain crew is the one who places yet another marker at the yard line where the offense’s drive began.  This stays in place until the other team gets the ball.

b.      When there is a question of whether the offense advanced the ball far enough to make a first down, the HL will bring the chain crew out onto the field for a measurement (this procedure will get further attention in a future post).

c.       Before and at the snap, the HL looks for fouls committed at the LOS, such as offside or encroachment.  He also looks for intentional grounding by the quarterback.

d.      Generally, the HL is responsible for watching for illegal action on his side of the field by defenders, receivers and blockers nearest to him, such as holding, illegal contact, offensive or defensive pass interference, etc.

e.      He also rules on issues at the sideline, such as whether the runner has stepped out of bounds, or whether the receiver made a catch inbounds.

f.        The Head Linesman must assist the Referee and Umpire in determining the forward progress of the runner.


1.       Position:  The Line Judge (or “LJ”) straddles the LOS on the opposite sideline as the Head Linesman.  Like the HL, he will watch the closest receiver as the play develops until the receiver moves five to seven yards downfield.  Once he stops watching the receiver, he will move back to observe action in the backfield.

2.       Responsibilities:

a.       The Line Judge has the same duties as the Head Linesman related to ruling on actions on the LOS at and before the snap; and on actions by defenders, blockers and receivers on his side of the field.

b.      He also observes where the pass is thrown to determine if it is a forward or backward pass.

c.       The Line Judge also must rule on whether the quarterback was beyond the LOS when he threw the pass, and, with the HL, he also rules on intentional grounding.

d.      Finally, the LJ keeps a backup game clock and lets the Referee know when each period ends.

*Remember from our discussion of Safeties and Cornerbacks that it is illegal to impede a receiver once he has gone five yards past the line of scrimmage.  These officials are looking for such illegal contact in this 5-yard zone.

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