ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- In an unusual moment Wednesday morning, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz called his team into a huddle near the far end of a practice field. The previous 75 minutes had produced one too many false starts and encroachment penalties, and it appeared Schwartz had had enough.
Officials called 146 penalties on the Lions last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and opponents accepted 128 -- the third-highest total in the NFL. By the looks of it, at least, Schwartz has made the issue a significant emphasis in training camp. Spectators and reporters couldn't hear what he said during that mid-practice huddle, but it was unlikely he was discussing the lunch menu in the Lions' cafeteria.
"It's definitely been an emphasis," cornerback Chris Houston said. "Coach has been more on guys if they jump offsides or make dumb penalties. He's much more aware of that. If you do have penalties, you're going to get it. He's going to yell at you."
There are no drills that can minimize the kind of penalties Houston is referring to. Coaches have to ensure players know the rules and then create accountability when they don't or can't follow them. Wednesday, it appeared the Lions removed right tackle Gosder Cherilus from team drills after he had a false start.
You could argue that pre-snap penalties can be a function of the physical drain of training camp, but as Schwartz noted, the Lions had just returned from a day off Tuesday.
"[W]e weren't at our best [Wednesday]," Schwartz said. "We need to be better, particularly after a day off. There are days off that are built into our schedule now with the new CBA and things like that. When we take advantage of a day off, we don't need it to bleed over into the next day. We've got to make sure that doesn’t happen."
The chart shows the Lions' most penalized individuals last season. Seven of tight end Brandon Pettigrew's 11 penalties were false starts. Defensive end Cliff Avril was called for five offside penalties/neutral zone infractions. Left tackle Jeff Backus had three false starts and seven of defensive tackle Corey Williams' eight penalties came before the snap.
Coaches generally consider those type of penalties preventable, as opposed to illegal blocks on special teams that seem more open to interpretation from officials. To borrow a cliché from professional sports, you can only control what you can control, and the Lions are focused on controlling that large section of mistakes that went unchecked last season.
As we discussed Wednesday, one apparently lackluster practice doesn't make a big impact on me in the context of a three-week training camp. What was more notable to me was the Lions' recognition and the steps they are taking to minimize the issue.
"The next step for us is being disciplined with the penalties," Houston said, "and not making bonehead mistakes. If we can do that, take some of those penalties down, those after-the-play penalties, and if we can do all of that and play within the lines, we'll be OK."