The world of the head linesman

Where he stands

Derby’s Steve Stelljes may get a lot of face time on the CBS telecast of the Super Bowl. The Harbaugh brothers are the game’s main storyline, and Stelljes as a head linesman will often be stationed near both.

A head linesman stands at the line of scrimmage on the visitor’s sideline in the first half (Ravens), then switches with the line judge in the second half and is on the home team’s sideline (49ers).

What he looks for

Before plays from a line of scrimmage, head linesmen are responsible for everything along the line from the center to where the linesman is standing. That could be as many as seven offensive players — center, guard, tackle, tight end and receivers.

The head linesman is responsible for making sure there’s no movement along the line of scrimmage — offsides, encroachment, fall starts, illegal motion — and for making sure there are seven offensive players on the line of scrimmage.

After the snap, Stelljes’ responsibilities differ based on a running or passing play. For a running play, he’ll look for infractions such as holding, clipping, illegal blocks and unnecessary roughness. For a pass play, he watches the receivers on his side, looking for offensive or defensive interference, for the first seven yards of their routes. He also judges a five-yard area beyond the line of scrimmage where defenders may impede the progress of a receiver.

As the play concludes

You’ll often see Stelljes running in from the sideline to mark the end of a ballcarrier’s forward progress. The head linesman and line judge are vital in spotting the ball for the next play’s line of scrimmage. Stelljes is also responsible for the “chain gang,” the three men who mark the line of scrimmage and first-down marker.