An instant after getting called for pass interference during last week’s game at Chicago, Jaguars cornerback Dwayne Gratz turned to the side judge.


“How!? How!? How!? How!? How!?” he asked/pleaded/demanded.

Gratz, who didn’t get an answer, could have been speaking for every defensive player in the NFL – and some offensive linemen, as well – who are equal parts frustrated and perplexed over the officiating through two full weeks of preseason games.

The NFL’s edict to the officiating crews: Enforce three defensive penalties (illegal contact, holding and pass interference) and illegal use of hands, which can be called on offense or defense.

The officials have acquiesced and the results are startling.

Last week’s 16 games combined for 330 penalties for 2,761 yards; in last year’s Week 17, teams combined for 153 penalties for 1,309 yards.

“Wooooo,” Jaguars cornerback Alan Ball said. “They’ve got an emphasis on it.”

Said safety Winston Guy: “I guess they’re trying to make a point with everything.”

San Diego was called for illegal contact, pass interference and defensive holding … on the same drive.

Tennessee and New Orleans combined for 32 penalties equaling 295 yards in a game that lasted three hours, 19 minutes.

The Jaguars (14 penalties against the Bears) were one of 21 teams to commit at least 10 penalties and one of 10 teams to have at least 100 yards (141).

“It’s rough out there,” Jaguars cornerback Will Blackmon said. “My reaction to it isn’t as extreme as I thought it would be given the stats. You can’t even put your hand on a guy – you can’t even breathe on him. That puts anxiety on the defender.”

Last year, the Jaguars were called for nine pass interference, four defensive holding, three illegal use of hands and no illegal contact penalties in 16 games.

In two preseason games, they’ve been flagged three times for pass interference, twice for illegal contact and once apiece for holding and illegal use of hands.

Confirming the league-wide emphasis, officials last week called 18 defensive pass interference, 23 illegal contact, 29 illegal use of hands and 38 defensive holding penalties.

“I think the game [wasn’t broke], but it’s an offensive league and less contact helps them make more plays,” Ball said. “They could throw a flag on every play if they wanted to, but how long do they want these games to be?”

The Jaguars’ coaches, chiefly defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker, are using the penalties as teaching tools but stressing the need to play their same game.

“What they’re calling in the preseason, we’re not going to let that take away from our aggressiveness,” Walker said. “There are some penalties we have to coach up and clean up, but at the same time, we don’t want to back off and have our guys playing timid and not going after the ball and not competing for the ball.”

The Jaguars will still play press man coverage on the outside.

The consensus with the Jaguars is things will return to semi-normalcy when the regular season starts.

Gratz: “I doubt it will hold up. Either way, I just need better technique on those plays.”

Ball: “Fewer flags are better in my opinion.”

Walker: “I think it will [revert back] because they warned us that they were going to be a little over the top with it in the preseason to get everybody’s attention. I’m sure they’ll still look at it, but I don’t think they’ll be able to do what they’re doing now.”

But …

Blackmon: “It’s a judgment call so it depends on which official it is because it’s not just one guy making the call for every game. We have no choice but to adjust. They’re not going to scale back.”

For his part, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was diplomatic in his answer, saying the players should expect for things to be called tightly.

The coaching staff’s goal is to identify the errors when a call is made and try to avoid it when the regular season starts Sept. 7 at Philadelphia.

“Thankfully, it’s the preseason,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich said.

Said Guy: “We have to be smarter out there and put ourselves in better position.” 

Ryan O’Halloran: (904) 359-4401