DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – With no agreement with its locked-out referees union in sight, the NFL is planning to use replacements for at least the first week of the season.

Replacement officials probably can’t start the regular season as poorly as they did the preseason. At least, the league is hoping they don’t.

For example, in the very first exhibition game of 2012, referee Craig Ochoa announced that New Orleans won the coin toss. But in reality Arizona did. Ochoa immediately made the correction, but that was the beginning of what has been a rocky ride.

Another concern, according to former Dallas Cowboys and current NFL analyst Troy Aikman, is player safety.

PLAY: Troy Aikman on 1080 KRLD

“I saw a number of hits during the preseason on quarterbacks, in the games that I watched, that were not called.” said Aikman. “How the penalties were administered – where the ball was spotted, those were incorrect.”

The NFL is standing behind it’s replacement officials. “Officiating is an imperfect science,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “They’re not going to be correct all the time, but we have systems in place to try to help.”

The replacements the league is using aren’t used to those systems. With major college refs staying loyal to their current responsibilities, the NFL had to recruit fill-ins from lower levels of the game where the rules are different, the crowds are small and the action unfolds at a slower pace.

“The replacement officials continue to improve every week as we continue to work intensively on their training. Overall, they are doing a good job,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said.
“Fans come to expect the best players on the field and the best coaches on the sidelines…we expect to see the best officials on the sidelines officiating these games – and that’s not what we’ve seen in the preseason” said Aikman.

The big questions remain; Can they keep the game safe? Can they keep up with the speed? Will they avoid game-changing errors?  All of those questions will keep coming until the NFL and the regular refs reach a new collective bargaining agreement.

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