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Sports School: Former NFL ref Jimmy DeBell explains intentional grounding

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Rochester native breaks down the game

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — In this week’s “Sports School”, former NFL referee and Rochester native Jimmy DeBell breaks down intentional grounding. Intentional grounding is called when a quarterback illegally throws the ball away in order to avoid a sack.

“It’s a difficult foul to kind of understand and can be confusing because it’s actually a two-part foul,” says DeBell.

“Let’s take the first part, he’s outside of the box. The tackle box is determined at the snap, wherever the left tackle and the right tackle started. It’s no foul if the quarterback is outside the box and he throws the ball beyond the line of scrimmage,” says DeBell.

“If the quarterback is beyond the box and he doesn’t get the ball beyond the scrimmage, he just dumps it three feet in front of him, that’s intentional grounding,” he adds.

The line of scrimmage extends beyond the field of play- if a quarterback throws the ball out of bounds, all it has to do is land beyond the line of scrimmage and there is no penalty.

“If he’s inside the box still, he scrambled around but he never got outside of the box and he throws the ball it needs to be near an eligible receiver,” says DeBell.

It is the referee’s judgment to determine if there is an eligible receiver where the ball lands. The NFL rulebook says the receiver must have a realistic chance of completion, which is defined as a pass that is thrown in the direction of and lands in the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver.

There are other situations in which a quarterback is not called for intentional grounding. If the quarterback is not under pressure, intentional grounding is not called. An example of this would be when the offense is in a red zone and the quarterback immediately sees the play will not succeed. He can throw the ball through the back of the end zone and not be penalized.

There is also an exception to spiking the ball to stop the clock at the end of a half. If the quarterback is under center, he is allowed to spike the ball.

“The penalty is a ten-yard foul, unless the quarterback is greater than ten yards when he throws the ball, then it’s a spot foul and it would be the spot from which he threw from, and you also have to keep in mind it’s a loss of down,” says DeBell.

If the quarterback throws the ball away in his own end zone and is called for intentional grounding, a safety is awarded to the defense.

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