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The NFL confirmed two officiating-related experiments Tuesday for the 2015 preseason. Here's what you need to know about each:
Tablets for replays: In four games this week, and a total of 10 games this preseason, the league will replace the traditional sideline replay monitor with Microsoft Surface tablets. An aide will bring the tablet to the referee on the field whenever a review is to be made. The NFL introduced tablets to the sideline last season to allow coaches and players to review in-game photographs. They are connected to a private Wi-Fi network and equipped with plastic weather protection.
Increased efficiency: If all goes well, the technology and protocol change will streamline the process and ultimately shorten the time away from game action. Last season, the NFL managed to shave 1 minute, 44 seconds off the average game time, in large part because officials at the league's New York City offices assisted in replay reviews.
Week 2 games affected: The replay tablets will be in use at Friday's game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Jets and Saturday's game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants. Sunday, they are scheduled to be used in games between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers.
Eighth official: In 13 games this week, the NFL will add an additional on-field official. The league has used seven-person crews since 1978. The experiment is meant to reduce instances of officials monitoring multiple areas of the field that are not near each other. Seven games will use a second umpire, who will line up in the offensive backfield. The "U2" will focus on the center before the snap and then on the closest guard and tackle. Six games will have a "center judge," who will be positioned 20 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage to focus on the center and guards, looking particularly for instances of defensive holding. (Presumably, the "CJ" will be in better position to make a call when defensive linemen tries to slow offensive linemen from blocking other players.)
Addressing complaints: NFL coaches complain about all aspects of officiating, but I consistently hear them wondering how officials can possibly see everything that happens on both sides of the line of scrimmage. This experiment seems to be designed to address those concerns. In a statement, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said: "We want to try to fill some of the holes that may happen in specific situations over the course of a game."
Experimental only: Both of these experiments are for the 2015 preseason only and will not continue into the regular season, a league spokesman confirmed. Adding an eighth official would require a significant expansion of the officiating department, and the league's competition committee would first have to vet the results of the experiment.