Jaguars' Offensive Line Putting Increased Focus on Penalties
The Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line is returning for the 2020 NFL season largely intact. Every starter and primary depth player returns within a unit that spent near the entire season playing together. It lends a cohesiveness to the offense, especially in front of a young quarterback.
But perhaps most importantly, it means the unit has a year of individual and position wide lessons under their belt…like what constitutes a penalty.
As rules changed and/or became more emphasized over the past two seasons, NFL referees have thrown more flags than any other previous season. New rules have been implemented, leading to some veterans having to relearn a position they’ve played for decades. And in other cases, players are finding themselves no longer able to get away with things that have been allowed to slide in the past.
It’s the latter that caused the Jaguars offensive line to receive 30+ penalties during the 2019 season.
According to nflpenalties.com, the Jaguars as a whole were the second most penalized team overall in the league last year (132), second-most in net count penalties (-30) and 18th most in penalties before the snap (35).
There were 18 false starts, 30 offensive holdings and on the offensive line among starters (Jawaan Taylor, Cam Robinson, Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder, Will Richardson and A.J. Cann) there were just at 45* penalties, give or take.
*There is no central database with the number and statistical sites disagree on Taylor and Linder’s numbers with a margin of error at 5.
During the regular season alone, Taylor was the most penalized lineman in the NFL. As a rookie acclimating to new standards while playing the majority of the snaps, that is expected. But the starting center, Linder, points out a higher level at which refs were throwing flags as one of the larger issues for the entire unit.
“I definitely think the rule changes from last year, you know, the refs were definitely feeling free to call it.”
The NFL didn’t list offensive line penalties as a completely new rule, but the league office did mention them as receiving a new point of emphasis for the 2019 season, saying:
"Offensive holding will be more strictly enforced this season, particularly on the back side of the run play or line of scrimmage. Referees will closely monitor play at the line of scrimmage to ensure that offensive players do not materially restrict opponents or alter the defender’s path or angle of pursuit.
Material restrictions include but are not limited to:
- grabbing or tackling an opponent
- hooking, jerking, twisting, or turning him
- pulling him to the ground.”
As Linder, told reporters on Wednesday during training camp, refs were telling players before the games they’d be focusing more on the issue. Still, there are inherent habits that aren’t easily broken.
“I know there was a big emphasis on hands last year, you know, hands in tight. A lot of times it was you could have your hands kind of outside and bring your feet up and bring your hips up; but they were calling it a lot more, they were looking for it. I mean that's what they were telling us before the game. So, they just made an emphasis on it last year so now we have to really hone in our technique so they don't call it anymore.
“Obviously we always want to limit the penalties and that will be an emphasis you know just playing with better technique and now understanding the rules of what they're looking for, how to be able to play with that.”
Linder points out that without the advent of preseason games this fall, Jaguar players — and NFL players in general — will have to replicate the competition and kinks from those four games in the extended training camp period. It’s why having that core group returning will be so crucial, despite Pro Football Focus ranking the unit as near the bottom of the NFL.
“I really think that this group could take a big jump,” Marrone told reporters in mid-April.
“It’s their first year with Coach Warhop. I have a ton of respect for him as a football coach. Obviously he's someone that coached me. I know what he wants, I know how he teaches. I think those players have a better understanding [of] what they want, what's expected of them and I think you're going to see that ‘jump.’ When you're going through different coaches it's hard to make a jump cause you're just looking to please or do everything that coach wants you the first year.”
After a year where four of them started every game together and two others (Robinson and Richardson) split the rest, the lumps taken as a unit—like adjusting to the increased penalties–is something Linder sees helping them in the coming season.
“I thought we did some good things last year, and again just having another year together, and Cam [Robinson’s] another year healthy, you know he was coming off that ACL. You know [Andrew] Norwell is looking great, everyone's really looking great. AJ [Cann], Jawaan Taylor did really great things as a rookie. So it's going to be exciting this year. I mean, you'll just have to wait and see. But it's gonna be good things.”