high school football chain crew

Officiating Mechanics: The Linesman and the Line to Gain

A notable difference between the Linesman and Line Judge positions is the Linesman must work with the chains to his back, which makes it difficult to determine when the ball has reached or passed the line-to-gain (LTG).

The Linesman should not get into the habit of looking back at the chains when the ball is downed close to the LTG. Dead-ball officiating is an essential task and officials must keep their eyes on the players, especially immediately after the play is dead by rule. The chains have never caused a personal foul.

Pre-snap routine

Stripes and hashes

The linesman should look directly at the yard line and establish how far it is from the line of scrimmage. One of my mentors, Ray Lutz, used the vernacular “stripes and hashes” to help the wings determine how far the ball needed to move for a first down. Say the ball was on the A-12 (12 yard line going out), and the LTG was the A-18. That would be one stripe (the A-15) and then three hashes. (You don’t have to count the three hashes before you reach the stripe.)

Involve the box person as part of your pre-snap routine

Another practice I’ve found to be valuable is to use the box person to help “cage the gyros” before the snap. After a play was over, I would accordion onto the field, show the down to the referee, and then (without turning my head) show the down to the box person. As I backed up to the sideline, I wanted the box person to give me two numbers: the number on the box and the LTG.

For example, “Mark, I have 2 on the box and you’re going to the 35.” It normally took a few series to get the box person to habitually tell me the information, but he/she would eventually get it. If the box person forgot or was not paying attention, I’d say, “George, you have 2 on the box and we’re going to the 35, right?”

If you have a talented and attentive chain crew, you can also ask the front stake person to communicate with you when you pass the front stake or when the ball is close.

An active and vocal line judge will help the linesman

Finally, an active and vocal Line Judge can help tremendously when the ball is downed close to the LTG. The Line Judge should crash to the ball and kill the clock if the ball is close. If the Linesman sees that action, he/she should mirror the Line Judge and ask for the ball if the runner is downed in his/her coverage area.

In this clip, the runner is downed at the line to gain. The line judge squares off and signals “first down” to the referee. He does not stop the clock nor does he pinch to the ball. The linesman looks twice at the chains. One of the wings needs to spot the ball. If the line judge shows a sense of urgency, the linesman can pick up on that and mirror the line judge’s stop-the-clock signal and pinch. Both wings look indecisive on this play.

Here is an example of an active line judge. The runner gains 10 yards and is downed at the line to gain. The line judge races onto the field and signals “stop the clock.” The linesman should mirror his urgency and also kill the clock and pinch to the ball. One of the wings must spot the ball as it is downed at the LTG.