- Associated Press - Thursday, August 28, 2014

A subtle change to the NFL rulebook resulted in an 822 percent increase in illegal contact penalties through three weeks of the preseason.

Now the key question is not whether those calls will continue to rise in the regular season, because NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino is sure they will. He also says that’s a good thing.

“We don’t think this is a mistake at all,” Blandino said. “It’s going to provide more consistent officiating, and ultimately that’s what everyone wants.”

What fans, coaches and defenders want to know is: Just how often will flags fly when games count next week? Just how much will cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers need to keep their hands to themselves?

“When you have world-class athletes out there running routes, it’s kind of hard not to put your hand on them,” Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “You have to practice the new technique and get away with what we can.”

Heading into Thursday’s final exhibition games, the jumps from the 2013 preseason for three particular penalties were striking:

- 83 for illegal contact, up from nine;

- 137 for defensive holding, up from 28;

- 99 for illegal use of hands, up from 22.

“The officials,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said, “are trying to make a point.”

In last season’s “Official Playing Rules of the National Football League,” Rule 8, Section 4, Article 3 states: “If the receiver attempts to evade the defender, the defender cannot initiate contact that redirects, restricts, or impedes the receiver in any way.”

New wording for 2014 formulated by coaches and team representatives on the competition committee says “a defender cannot initiate contact with a receiver who is attempting to evade him.”

“It now takes away any notion of whether that contact created an advantage for the defense or a disadvantage for the receiver,” said Mike Pereira, Blandino’s predecessor in charge of officials. “So it basically is just about ‘contact’ or ‘no contact.’”

During the NFL’s annual officiating clinic in July, Blandino discussed an “emphasis” on illegal contact and said: “(If) it’s five plays in a row, call it five plays in a row.”

Blandino told the league’s nearly 120 game officials that defensive holding also would be a “big point of emphasis.”

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