FOXBORO -- Last summer, it was the players who were locked out by the NFL. This year, it's the officials.
NFL game officials are looking for a raise, and in their absence have arrived replacements. Substitute referees have been at Gillette Stadium this week to not only monitor play between the Patriots and Saints, but also to hone their knowledge of the NFL rule book.
They haven't made much noise in the last two days, but the men in stripes did make a few calls on Wednesday. Two defensive holding calls were made; a personal foul call would have been made -- the closest official waived his yellow flag in the play's general direction -- when Jimmy Graham got up and spiked a ball near Dont'a Hightower's feet after a catch; later in the practice, a play that appeared as though it could have been called pass interference on the Saints was not called; also, Tyler Urban juggled a Ryan Mallett pass as he stepped out of bounds in the end zone, but the closest official raised his arms and ruled it a score.
There were no real egregious errors made by the officials, it appeared. But former vice president and senior director of NFL officiating Mike Pereira feels as though it's only a matter of time before the league discovers the difficult situation in which the substitutes have been placed.
"I feel bad for the replacement people," Pereira told WSCR-AM in Chicago on Tuesday. "They're so overwhelmed."
Drew Brees wouldn't say whether or not he's concerned about the subs -- who have been plucked from college and high school leagues -- affecting the outcomes of games negatively.
"It is what it is," Brees said after an extended pause. "I understand that those control what goes on with the officials or those negotiations so whoever is out there officiating is officiating, and we'll just focus on doing our job."
Saints interim coach Joe Vitt had a similar sentiment, even though -- as Pereira pointed out in his interview -- there were several missed calls in the preseason opener between the Saints and the Cardinals on Sunday.
"We're gonna play the hand we're dealt" he said. "We're out here to get better. We're not gonna complain about the officials, we're not gonna talk to the officials. Do your job. If there's a bad call we'll see it and give you a mulligan somewhere down the line. Just get better at what you're doing."
It would be reasonable to assume that the replacement officials may miss some calls that the regulars would not. But will players try to take advantage of the inexperienced eyes upon them? Patriots offensive lineman Dan Connolly said no. He and his teammates on the line won't be trying to get away with anything any more than they normally would.
"What we try to do is try to be in the best position and do the technique right to not get called for anything," he said. "We're not out there trying to commit fouls and avoid getting caught. We're trying to do it right, and if you do it right, you're not going to get called for anything."