Replacement officials descended on NFL training camps this week for a crash course in the professional game. Chicago Bears offensive lineman Roberto Garza said what many fans and the media have wondered about with regards to replacement NFL officials. In an interview with Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune, Garza acknowledged players taking advantage of the replacement officials calling games.
"They've been around the game," Garza said. "They know what they're doing. But we might be able to get away with more. That would be good for us."
The league and the NFL Referees Association are in a standoff, with the regular officials locked out amid negotiations over a new labor agreement. In order to move on with the season, the league has brought in replacements culled from the ranks of Division II and III NCAA football leagues, the CFL and even high school football.
Locked-out officials have criticized the decision to bring in replacements on the grounds that their inexperience will jeopardize competitive play as well as put players at increased safety risk. On a July 18 conference call with the NFLRA, the organization's president Ed Hochuli presaged Garza's remarks:
"There is a great deal of atmosphere control. Players know who we are. They're going to see how far they can push it, going to see how much they can get away with."
The NFL pushed back on those claims. From a July 18 league response to the NFLRA claims:
These high-quality officials will be prepared to work preseason games, beginning with the Pro Football Hall of Fame game on August 5. We have made substantial investments in training despite the efforts of the NFLRA to denigrate the replacements and disrupt the training process ... We are confident that these game officials will enforce rules relating to player safety.
Reviews out of camp so far have not been positive for the replacement refs. Biggs' article noted veteran scouts' concerns over the refs calling "only what is obvious." One veteran journalist described the new officials' work at camp as "pitiful."
DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA executive director, expressed concerns about the impact on player working conditions, i.e. safety and fairness, in an interview with Amy K. Nelson of SB Nation. Smith would not answer a question about whether players would consider a walkout over the issue. You can see Smith's complete interview below.