NFL zeroing in on contact between receivers and defenders

Pass catchers such as Patriots tight end Justin Jones should be getting a little more room to operate this season. AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Charles Krupa/AP
Pass catchers such as Patriots tight end Justin Jones should be getting a little more room to operate this season.

FOXBOROUGH — The 23 accepted penalties during the New England-Washington preseason game last week were a high number and slowed the game down, but don’t expect things to get any better, at least in August.

Referee John Parry and three other officials are in Foxborough Tuesday and Wednesday to work with the Patriots and Eagles and explain the new rules and points of emphasis to players and coaches. They also spent a few minutes with reporters.

The NFL has announced that contact between defensive players and receivers is a “major point of emphasis” this season, which has led to the high number of flags being thrown to this point in the preseason.


“Points of emphasis are made annually from the competition committee meetings based on our action or lack thereof, players’ actions or lack thereof every year, and this is the second time in 14 years that defensive holding/illegal contact has been a point of emphasis,” Parry said.

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“It’s an offensive game, and we want receivers to be able to run a free route; we do not want receivers to initiate contact with defenders to eliminate their opportunity to defend that route, so it’s not an easy call. There’s not an easy call out there.

“I think we’ll see 23, 24, 20 [penalties] for [preseason] Weeks 2, 3, 4, and the message will be sent that this is a point of emphasis and players will adapt, coaches will adapt, officials will adapt, get on the same page. Week 1 [of the regular season] I don’t think you’ll see a big difference in the football game.”

Now in his 15th season as an NFL official and eighth as a referee, Parry said it’s not uncommon for there to be a spike in flags thrown during the preseason, only to see that wave recede once the regular season begins.

“In 14 years — I call them ‘clinic specials,’ we can call them points of emphasis, we can call them whatever we want — but there’s generally two or three, four topics that are always at the top and we talk about them often and we officiate them aggressively during the preseason because we want a change to the game,” he said. “And by Week 1 of the regular season, I am sure we will all have forgotten this. Players will get into a rhythm of what we are focusing on and what we are calling, officials will get better at it — we all have to get better at it.


“I’m sure if we went back to every preseason schedule, it’s 15-25 flags every game, and then we get into regular season, I think we average 13.1 or something like that. I think you’ll see that back.”

Parry had not yet had much interaction with Bill Belichick and Patriots players — the news conference was held before practice began — but he did have a 10-minute conversation with Belichick this morning, and the coach does not want the officials to hold back on the flags.

“Throw flags. Put the flag on the ground, so when we put the film on, we can see exactly what the action was. When the flag is on the ground, communicate with the player: what did he do wrong, how does he potentially eliminate that action, communicate with the coaching staff to make sure that they know,” Parry said Belichick requested. “So you’ll see flags on the ground to indicate to the player that that’s an issue.”

Other rule changes and points of emphasis this season include:

■ It is now illegal to roll up on a player’s legs from the side, not just from behind.


■ The clock will no longer be stopped when the quarterback is sacked inside of the final two minutes of each half.

■ Players can be penalized for using abusive language toward other players, coaches and officials.

■ Players can no longer use the uprights, crossbar or pylons in touchdown celebrations (aka the Jimmy Graham Rule).

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.