From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- The NFL will open the regular season next week with replacement officials and said it was prepared to use them "as much ... as necessary" afterward.Replacements will be on the field beginning Wednesday night when the Dallas Cowboys visit the New York Giants in the season opener, league executive Ray Anderson told the 32 teams in a memo. Negotiations are at a standstill between the NFL and the officials' union.The NFL Referees Association was locked out in early June and talks on a new collective bargaining agreement have gone nowhere. Replacements have been used throughout the preseason, with mixed results.In 2001, the NFL used replacements for the first week of the regular season before a contract was finalized. The speed of the game and the amount of time starters are on the field increase exponentially for real games, making the replacements' task more challenging.Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told the clubs in a memo Wednesday that the replacements will work "as much of the regular season as necessary," adding that training with each crew will continue.The NFL noted it has expanded the use of instant replay as an officiating tool this year to include all scoring plays and turnovers. Officiating supervisors will be on hand to assist the crews on game administration issues."We are not surprised, based on Ray Anderson's statements ... that the NFL was not going to reach out to us," NFLRA spokesman Michael Arnold said. "However, this is consistent with the NFL's negotiating strategy which has been take it or leave it and lock them out.' It now appears the NFL is willing to forego any attempt to reach a deal in the last seven days before opening night."The NFL Players Association, which went through a 4 - month lockout last year before settling on a new contract, expressed disappointment about the decision to use replacements.Colts safety Antoine Bethea said there is a feeling of solidarity with the officials."They've got to do what they've got to do, and we were in a similar situation a little while ago," Bethea said. "So you can't fault those guys for doing what they have to do."Anderson said the sides remain considerably apart on economic issues, including salary and retirement benefits. He also told the teams there is a substantial difference on operational issues."One of our key goals in this negotiation is to enhance our ability to recruit, train, and replace officials who are not performing adequately," Anderson said. "We believe that officials should be evaluated and performance issues addressed in the same way as players, coaches, club management and league staff. We have proposed several steps to accomplish this, including having a number of full-time officials and expanding the overall number of officials."Giants receiver Victor Cruz said the players have other things as their prime concern as the season approaches."You can't worry about that. You have to go out there and worry about what we do as individuals and players. Take care of our own deal," Cruz said Wednesday might after New York's 6-3 victory over New England. "They've gotten better as the games went on, but we just have to make sure we're doing the right things out there on the field and not give them much to throw flags on."The NFL is offering to add three full officiating crews, increasing the total number of officials to 140. The NFLRA insists the compensation being offered with such an increase would reduce the officials' pay.The league is proposing having seven officials -- one per position of referee, umpire, line judge, side judge, back judge, field judge, head linesman -- who would train, scout, handle communications, safety issues and rules interpretations year-round. Now, all NFL game officials are part-time employees, with outside jobs ranging from lawyers to teachers to business owners.In response, the NFLRA has said it is not opposed to full-time officials "if they are fairly compensated."The union also disputes the value of the league's current salary offer, which it says would not be the 5 percent to 11 percent increase the NFL claims.And the union questions the league's adherence to player safety initiatives by using replacement officials, none of whom has recently worked Division I college games. Many of the officials who were replacements in 2001 came from the Division I level."The league has placed a lot of emphasis on player health and safety in the last few years and we do feel we are an integral part of that," Arnold said. "We think it is unfortunate and we really don't understand why the league is willing to risk playing safety and the integrity of the game by utilizing amateur officials."Anderson told the teams that the replacements have "undergone extensive training and evaluation, and have shown steady improvement during the preseason."Arnold disagreed."The referees want to get back on the field," Arnold said. "Our members have been engaged in extensive preparations and are ready to go."Giants coach Tom Coughlin said the coaches and players have no control over the situation."For me to say there is or isn't concern, you do the very best you can with them," Coughlin said Wednesday night. "You just hope these officials know the rules and can keep the game under control and keep order. Hopefully they'll be able to do that."
ALAMEDA – Florida offensive tackle David Sharpe spent part of his pre-draft process dispelling rumors that he was legally blind in his right eye. The report came out this spring, and Sharpe denied it quickly.
The information reappeared Saturday morning, when NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock mentioned it shortly after the Raiders drafted Sharpe No. 129 overall. The draft analyst said Sharpe might be restricted to the offensive line’s left side.
Sharpe said that isn’t the case. He can play left or right tackle. And his vision is just fine, thank you very much.
“I’m not blind. I’m not legally blind,” Sharpe said. “The information is false, all of it is false. I just had a little cataract removal when I was younger and I’ve been battling that since I was young. But it doesn’t affect my play or vision or anything. I’m not blind.”
Sharpe said his right eye is a little blurrier than the left, but it doesn’t impact his play in any way.
The 6-foot-6, 343-pound blocker was projected to go in the first three rounds, but fell to the fourth. He wasn’t upset about an issue that was a non-issue.
“It doesn’t really make me mad,” Sharpe said. “I just brush it off. It was just false and I addressed it.”
The Raiders had some inside info on Sharpe’s play. Head coach Jack Del Rio’s son Luke is Florida’s quarterback, and vouched for Sharpe’s effectiveness before Oakland made the official selection.
“He actually texted me this morning and said his dad called him and asked about me,” Sharpe said. “There was a little hint there, so that was cool.”
ALAMEDA – The Raiders have struggled mightily covering tight ends. It hasn’t been a one-year thing. They’re notorious for letting that position run rampant over the past four years, allowing talent ranging from Travis Kelce to Gary Barnidge to tally huge totals against the Silver and Black.
The Raiders may have found a solution to that problem Friday in the second round. They selected massive combine freak and Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu, a 6-foot-4 speedster who can match up well with most anyone.
“Look, this is no secret, we’ve struggled for the last couple of years covering the opponents’ tight ends,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We think this is a guy that can help out with his length, matchup against some of the bigger tight ends, some of the better tight ends. We’ll put him right in the mix.”
Del Rio can get creative with this kid. Melifonwu is a safety by trade, but can play cornerback – he proved that during Senior Bowl practices – and functions well from the slot. He can also play well in the box against the run game or deep in the pattern, providing versatility to the secondary.
The Raiders have incumbent starters at safety, with free safety Reggie Nelson and strong safety Karl Joseph. Nelson is 33 and entering a contract year, so Melifonwu could develop into a long-term partnership with Joseph, last year’s first-round pick.
Expect Melifonwu to help right away, especially against the recently bothersome tight end position.
“I feel like I’m a solid cover guy, especially versus tight ends,” Melifonwu said. “I feel like the majority of tight ends that I go up against I’m going to be faster than and really be able to cover them.”
The London, England native put on a show at the NFL scouting combine. He ran 40 yards in 4.40 seconds there, and did most every drill well.
“I think it did a lot for me,” Melifonwu said. “I think it showed my character, my poise and the ability to perform under pressure. And really the fact that not only am I an explosive player, I’m a player that has great hips and great range for somebody my size.”
Del Rio supported Melifonwu's solid game tape, which improved as his college career progressed. He finished with a career-high 118 tackles and four interceptions. He also had 2.5 tackles for a loss and three passes defensed. He accounts the improvement to improved football knowledge.
“Just having a better sense of the game of football,” Melifonwu said. “My defensive back coach Anthony Poindexter was a great college safety and a great NFL safety. He really did a great job of helping me fine tune things like run fits, formations and really keyed every week to watch and how to watch the game of football, how to study the game of football which in result, helped me have the season I had.”