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Officially, there’s a problem with replacements

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh disputes pass-interference call against his team as officials Derrick Rhone-Dunn (84) Brad Hudspeth (53)

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh disputes a pass-interference call against his team as officials Derrick Rhone-Dunn (84) and Brad Hudspeth (53) confer in a preseason game Saturday. | Dave Einsel~AP

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Updated: September 29, 2012 6:15AM

NFL vice president Ray Anderson recognizes that the league’s replacement officials are, in football terms, at their own 1-yard line, down eight points with less than a minute left in the game.

“We know the scrutiny that these guys — and our one young lady, Shannon Easton — are under,” Anderson told the Sun-Times on Friday after the Bears beat the New York Giants 20-17 at MetLife Stadium. “So there’s no question they’re under the microscope, and under the circumstances, we’re even more pleased with their effort.”

Many NFL players disagree, suggesting that the prospect of playing regular-season games under the watch of replacement officials could cause undue injuries and results.

“It concerns me because that’s when it really counts,” Bears backup quarterback Jason Campbell said. “In this business, as tough as it is to win games, it concerns me because experience is something you can’t teach.

“Of course they’re going to miss some things because they come from a different level. Once the season starts, a lot of games will come down to one play or two plays, and you want to make sure those calls are on point and that you’re protecting the players.”

While watching a recent game on ESPN, Bears kicker Robbie Gould noted on his Twitter account that the coaches were getting upset because the replacement officials are “clueless.” Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote on his Twitter account that the replacements are “horrible” and that this impasse is “kind of embarrassing.”

Several coaches have held their tongue in public, but the Tennessean noted that Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray was seen arguing with one replacement official and made reference to the “Three Stooges.”

Anderson said the NFL is training the replacement officials and seeing improvement.

“We went in not expecting that they’d be up to snuff with the regular officials,” Anderson said. “But we went in knowing that with training and repetitions and preseason games that when we get ready for the regular season, we felt they would be credible, and they’re proving week in and week out that they’re getting better. So we think that when we kick off a week and a half from now, we’ll have very credible crews across the board.”

Credible, though, isn’t the most encouraging word.

One penalty that has drawn a lot of questions is defensive pass interference. On Aug. 18 against the Washington Redskins, Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman was flagged for pass interference, even though he and receiver Pierre Garcon were several yards out of bounds and the pass from Robert Griffin III appeared uncatchable. On Friday against the Giants, Tillman was flagged twice, one legitimately and one ridiculously. Eli Manning’s pass to Reuben Randle on third-and-15 was well short, but the rookie receiver turned into Tillman and drew a flag. His second penalty was called correctly, and it gave the Giants first-and-goal at the Bears’ 1.

“I know they’re learning on the fly, but at the same time, they’ve got to make the right call,” Tillman said. “The second call, total PI. It was a good call. I admit to that. But the other one, I felt my position was established. It was like taking a charge [in basketball]. But they made a call, and we still got to play it. I can’t sit there and whine.”

Tillman suggested that the replacement officials haven’t improved, although he became careful with his words.

“I don’t want to say nothing too crazy so I don’t get fined,” he said. “I don’t know if you can get fined for talking about replacement refs. Can you?”

Usually outspoken linebacker Lance Briggs declined comment when asked about the replacement officials.

Neither the league nor the officials has fleshed out the sticking points in negotiations, so there’s no need to assign blame for why the usual crews aren’t available.

“It’s a business negotiation, and we’re at an impasse,” Anderson said.

Asked if things are headed for an 11th-hour deal, Anderson said, “Sometimes that’s the way it works. But I don’t have a prediction as to when it will come to fruition, but eventually it will and then we’ll get them back on and move on.”

For the sake of many, the sooner the better.

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