August 1, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Lions and other teams will have to mind their language this season

Allen Park — The NFL has added new rules this season the league hopes will lead to a safer game, but one addition won’t be as black and white as most penalties.

Referees can penalize players this season for any language they consider abusive or threatening, whether it’s racial slurs, comments about sexual orientation or something similar. Determining what is pejorative will be at the discretion of the officials.

Team will receive 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for anything the referees deem worthy, and veteran official Walt Coleman said he expects it to be difficult to discern what should and shouldn’t be penalized.

“It’s more judgment on our part,” said Coleman, who was at Lions training camp Thursday and Friday. “There’s no code words; there’s no one word’s worse than the other. It’s all up to us. It’s our discretion based on what we see, what we hear and what we feel like is unsportsmanlike.

“It’s difficult, but so is holding and pass interference and some of the other stuff that we have to call.”

Coleman expects the use of pejorative language to decrease with the league’s emphasis.

“When the league focuses on something, everybody gets the message,” he said.

Among the other changes this year will be an increased emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding. Any time a defensive player tugs a receiver’s jersey before the ball is thrown it will be a penalty.

A blocker rolling up on the side of a defensive player’s legs will also be a penalty, a safety measure the league is taking to avoid leg injuries. Offensive linemen can still roll up defenders if they do it from the front.

Another rule change to help with player safety is the increased definition of what qualifies as illegal use of hands. If a player on either side makes direct and forcible contact with another player’s head or neck, it will be a penalty.

The recovery of a loose ball will also be automatically reviewed, regardless of whether or not it resulted in a turnover. Officials will also be wearing microphones and earpieces that will allow them to communicate with each other to ensure they get calls right.

The goal of all the changes is both player safety and to ensure the officials get the calls right.

Coleman was the official for 2012 Thanksgiving game, when the Lions lost to Houston in overtime and Texans running back Justin Forsett ran for an 81-yard touchdown despite being down by contact long before scoring.

“It eats you up bad,” Coleman said of getting calls like that wrong.

Forsett’s touchdown stood because then-Lions coach Jim Schwartz threw his challenge flag, which negated the automatic review. That rule has since been changed to cost teams a timeout or 15-yard penalty if a coach challenges a play that will be reviewed.

“Coach Schwartz took the blame for it. He stood up and said he messed up,” Coleman said. “Unfortunately, we messed up to start with. That was the problem. We screwed the play up to start with. The runner was down and we should’ve got the play right on the field and it should’ve never gotten to that point.”

Coleman said he and the other officials who are in Allen Park for training camp talked to the players Thursday night and explained that they are not perfect, but the goal is to get every call right.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com
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Former Lions coach Jim Schwartz talks with NFL referee Walt Coleman during a 2012 game against the Texans. An erroneous challenge by Schwartz helped lead the NFL to change the penalty for mistaken challenges. / Leon Halip / Getty Images