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AAF could offer template for NFL replay changes

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the NFL considers proposals to extend instant replays, they might not have to look too far to find a template.

The Alliance of American Football also utilizes replay, but with a slight difference to the NFL's version, where reviews are initiated by a head coach (two per game, a third allowed if a coach wins the first two challenges) or the replay official on any play after the two-minute warning, scoring plays and turnovers.

In the AAF, coaches are afforded two challenges per game outside of the last two minutes of the first and second halves. At or inside the two-minute mark of either half, all replay reviews are initiated by the replay official positioned in the replay booth. All replay decisions are made by the onsite replay official.

The AAF is new, but Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff thinks the NFL could still learn from how the AAF does things.

"There's no question," Dimitroff said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I think our league has a really keen eye and we're always looking to learn.

"I think, again, there are many things they can learn from a guy like [AAF co-founder] Bill Polian, with his hands in it and his direction in it. We'll see how it all goes. If we're open-minded enough, we'll continue to evolve and develop into the best league in the world."

Denver Broncos general manager John Elway admits he hasn't closely followed the AAF, but he agreed on Dimitroff's point on learning how other professional leagues or even at the collegiate level approach rules.

"Those are types of things, whether it be the Canadian [Football] League or the new league, college football," Elway said Wednesday, "trying to look at all of the different things that everybody is doing and get the best scenario for us in the NFL."

The NFL has experienced controversy over replay or lack thereof since a no-call on a pass interference late in fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game played a significant role in the New Orleans Saints losing to the Los Angeles Rams.

The play was so blatant that even the offending player, Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, admitted to committing the infraction, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the infraction "should have been called" before adding the league will evaluate replay procedures.

While the AAF's rules mirror the NFL for the most part, the new league hasn't experienced a high-profile controversy such as in the NFC Championship Game. And the main problem for the NFL Competition Committee and owners surrounding pass interference infractions is that they are considered a judgment call, which are not reviewable under current instant replay rules.

Nevertheless, some NFL head coaches, including Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, wouldn't mind expanding replay.

Harbaugh concedes the NFL has great officials, but doesn't have a problem with placing another official in the box in order to avoid what he categorized as "clear and obvious mistakes," such as what was seen in the NFL Championship Game.

"If we can put somebody up there in the box that has a better angle that can help officiate the game from up there, do that," Harbuagh said. "If we can add more replay, let's do that.

"Because at the end of the day it's about the credibility of the spot, and we can't have the other leagues outpacing us in terms of use of technology to make sure games are fair and well-officiated."

The AAF does use a sky judge official who sits in press boxes during games.

Cream rising to the top

Two AAF team in the Eastern Conference have emerged from the pack and enter Week 4 action with spotless 3-0 records: the Orlando Apollos and Birmingham Iron.

Iron head coach Tim Lewis admitted before Week 3 that he initially didn't really know how the early part of the season would shape out when the league started and rosters were put together.

Lewis, however, had faith in those around him.

"I didn't know really what to expect," Lewis told on Feb. 20. "I knew that we had a good team and I knew that we had a good staff. That's all I knew. I really enjoyed working with the coaches. I really enjoyed working with them back to when we started in November and December.

"I knew that the coaches knew what they were doing, and then once we got the players and I got a chance to see them, physically put our hands on them, be in meetings with them, I thought, 'Oh, my goodness. We got a squad.' What's happened is they've bought into the system, work very hard and the coaches coach them very well, very carefully. It's been exciting."

The Iron is on a three-game winning streak behind a stout defense, which has allowed a league-low 21 points on the season, and running back Trent Richardson's league-leading six rushing touchdowns.

Conversely, the Apollos are winning behind head coach Steve Spurrier's explosive offense, which is averaging a league-high 32.6 points per game. The Apollos also boast the AAF's leading passer in Garrett Gilbert and leading wide receiver in Charles Johnson.

Still, the Apollos squeaked out a 21-17 win over the Memphis Express in Week 3 and Spurrier hopes there are no lingering effects for Week 4's matchup against the Salt Lake Stallions.

"Hopefully, we can play better against Salt Lake, another good team," Spurrier told reporters earlier in the week, via the Apollos' official website. "(The Stallions) lost a couple of close ones early, then they beat an Arizona team that was undefeated. They're a solid, good team, and if we're going to beat them, we've got to play well."

If the Iron takes care of business in Week 4 against the San Antonio Commanders and the Apollos defeat the Stallions (1-2), circle March 9 on calendars for a Week 5 showdown between the Apollos and Iron at Legion Field.

Weekly honors

The San Diego Fleet produced two Players of the Week from Week 3 action.

Fleet running back Ja'Quan Gardner was named the Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown, which came on an 83-yard burst through the defense, in Week 3's 31-11 win over the San Antonio Commanders. Gardner currently leads the AAF in rushing with 281 yards through three games.

Fleet linebacker A.J. Tarpley totaled five tackles, a pass defensed and a 27-yard pick-six against the Commanders en route to being named the Defensive Player of the Week.

Iron punter Colton Schmidt collected Special Team Players of the Week after posting a a 49.2-yard average (45.0 net) on five punts, which included a 57-yard effort in the Iron's 28-12 win over the Atlanta Legends. Schmidt also played a crucial role in flipping the field, as three of his punts were placed inside the Legends' 20-yard line.

Follow Herbie Teope on Twitter @HerbieTeope

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