Officiating turn has Martz happy
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch

For the second straight year, illegal contact and defensive holding will be a point of emphasis in the NFL. For pass-happy coaches such as the Rams' Mike Martz, that's welcome news.

Emphasizing those rules last season, Martz said, "brought the game back to the way it had been through its inception. For about a two- or three-year period there, we got more and more lax (calling those penalties) and accepted more things."

Making a rule a "point of emphasis" doesn't change the rule; it just means that game officials will be more vigilant about enforcing that rule. That certainly was the case last season.

Illegal-contact calls against pass defenders more than doubled last season, from 79 such infractions across the league in 2003 to 191 such penalties in 2004. Defensive-holding calls were up slightly, from 188 in 2003 to 201 in 2004.

"I think everybody feels good about it," Martz said. "It hasn't destroyed defenses. It hasn't been all the things that all the people said. It's just cleaned up the game."

It's still possible for defensive backs to cover receivers without all the clutching and grabbing, Martz said.

"Here's what we tell our people," Martz said. "You cover with your feet. When you start grabbing and pulling and chucking down the field, it takes less of an athlete - less skill to do that - than to stay with somebody and cover with your feet and use your hands to make the play."

As part of the NFL's annual training camp tour by game officials, referee Mike Carey headed a group that visited Rams camp Thursday.

Carey's group worked both practices at Rams Park and also met with players and coaches to talk about some of the new rules changes in 2005 and answer any questions.

"We got the A-team," Martz said. "We all feel that Mike's probably the top referee in the league. He really is, grade-wise, the top dog so to speak. It's good to have him here."

Martz and Carey once played high school football against each other in San Diego, with Martz attending Madison High and Carey playing for University High.