Saturday, May 26, 2007

It might not help them get any calls this season, but thanks to Ethan Albright and Phillip Daniels, the Washington Redskins should be the NFL’s best-informed team when it comes to the rules. That’s because Albright and Daniels were two of just three active players who served as officiating interns during NFL Europa’s training camp this spring.

“I had been yelling at the referees my whole life, but I had never taken the time to know what their responsibilities are,” said 36-year-old long-snapper Albright, a 13-year veteran who was an umpire during three scrimmages in Tampa, Fla. “It was very different. You have to stand around and let the game go by you. As a player, you’re supposed to run fast and go places, but you’ll get in people’s way if you do that as an umpire.”

Supervisor Jim Diapolous had his hand on Albright’s back during the first series and said his protege’s initial “You’ve got to be kidding me” reaction gradually yielded to a certain comfort level.

“I’d love to get every NFL player in a striped shirt at some point because it really shows them what we’re looking for during a play, how much you can hold and grasp, for example,” Diapolous said.

That’s why Daniels volunteered for the program.

“I wanted to learn what all the officials look at on the field and who made calls where,” said the 34-year-old defensive end, a 12-year veteran. “Now if I get held, I know exactly who to go to. They told us that body language means a lot. I yell at referees sometimes, wanting calls to go our way. But now that I’ve done it, I respect the officials more. They’ve got a hard job.”

As a field judge, Daniels had the easier job of the two Redskins during their three days working under Diapolous and fellow NFL officiating supervisors Neely Dunn and Johnny Grier.

“I had to watch the receivers at the line and through the backfield,” Daniels explained. “Depending on the formation, I would have to look at different stuff. There’s a lot of stuff coming at you and it happens fast. Ethan had the hardest job, being the umpire. The hardest part for him was to learn how to get out of the way, but he finally got the hang of it.”

Still, Daniels admitted that when the rookies watched tapes of the scrimmages they had worked, they had missed a couple of calls.

“I only threw my flag three or four times,” Daniels said. “I called one on an offensive tackle for holding a defensive end, but I did throw one on a D-lineman for being offside.”

Albright also employed a laissez-faire policy.

“I didn’t want to stop the game,” he explained. “I let ‘em play. I didn’t see anything too bad. If it had gotten bad enough, I would’ve called holding, but I didn’t want to have to come back and face [offensive lineman Jon] Jansen and [center Casey] Rabach and tell them I threw a flag for holding.”

While Daniels wishes he had participated earlier in his career, he doesn’t want to become an official when his playing days are history. Albright, however, likes the idea even though it likely would require 10 to 20 years of paying dues at the high school and college levels.

The NFL started the program in 2004 in hopes of fast-tracking players into striped shirts. But only two current officials, Steve Freeman (Buffalo/Minnesota, 1975-87) and Phil McKinnely (Atlanta/Los Angeles Rams/Chicago, 1976-82), are ex-players.

“I think it would be a lot of fun,” Albright said. “I’ve been in sports my whole life, and this would be a way to stay involved. As a snapper, I have the perfect mentality to be a ref because I don’t like to get noticed either.”

Note — Three former Redskins — offensive tackle Rod Jones (2002), safety Andre Lott (2002-04) and defensive tackle Brandon Noble (2003-05) — served as coaching interns during NFL Europa’s training camp. Jones is continuing in that role for Berlin during the ongoing season.

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