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As offenses speed up, NFL officials must keep up
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Players aren't the only ones who have been challenged by the pace of Chip Kelly’s offense

The refs have been too.

“It’s more demanding,” official Tony Steratore said Friday at Eagles training camp in a briefing held annually about the league’s rule changes. “There are more plays. The hurry-up offenses, the no-huddle offenses that team’s run now — they’re designed so that they can have more offensive plays.

And more plays means more points.

“They figure, [and] rightfully so — more plays, more yards, more yards, more points," he said. "Everybody wants to score more points.”

The league holds an annual clinic to monitor officials’ physical conditioning. Officials now not only have to adjust to quicker offenses but also must continue to keep up with the players.

“Every year that I get older in this league, it’s more of a challenge to stay in that kind of a condition,” the 55-year-old Steratore, who began officiating in the league in 2000, said.

“[The players] keep staying between the ages of 21 and 24. We just keep moving up the ladder, so that’s something we all put a lot of time in.”

Despite the increase in pace and offensive plays, coaches and players have to remain at the mercy of the officials, who control the rhythm of games with every set of the ball. Steratore said the league kept an eye on the Eagles’ high-speed offense during the preseason last year, but ultimately it became a “non-issue” as the season went on.

“Coach Kelly and his staff, to their credit, adapt themselves to what the rules of the tempo are and they do the things that they want to do within those confines.

“We don’t do anything different. We’re going to set the ball, we’re going to run the tempo of the game the way we always do. We don’t accommodate any team one special over another."

There are handful of notable rule changes for the upcoming season:

• A focus on eliminating unsportsmanlike conduct from the game and cracking down on foul language.

“The league is very, very serious about the image of the game,” Steratore said, explaining the NFL’s absolute “zero tolerance” policy.

Anything within earshot of an official that is deemed to be a racial, sexual orientation or gender slur will be called an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“We’re not going to have players degrading each other and demeaning each other on the field,” Steratore said. “There’s no place for it at this level or any other level.”

• Officials also plan on focusing on the rules involving contact between receivers and defenders before a pass.

The 5-yard contact window will be strictly enforced. Defenders cannot initiate contact with eligible receivers more than five yards from the line of scrimmage when the quarterback has the ball in the pocket. Defenders also cannot grab a jersey or any other part of a receiver's uniform prior to a pass. Doing so will result in a holding penalty.

Refs will also be eying receivers, who can use their hands and arms to react to contact initiated by a defender but cannot use them to create separation.

When asked about the stricter pass interference rules, Kelly was unperturbed.

“Just tell us what the rules are, we play by them,” he said.

• The crossbar is now included as a prop that players are prohibited from using as part of a celebration. So, dunking the ball over the goal post now warrants a 15-yard penalty.

• Uprights have been extended from 30 to 35 feet

• The clock will no longer be stopped after a quarterback sack outside two minutes of either half.

• As an experiment, extra points for the first two weeks of the preseason, including Sunday's Hall of Fame game between the Giants and Bills, will be spotted at the 15-yard line.