Chan Gailey out to eliminate sloppy flags

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey nearly recoiled when I brought up the subject.

Presnap penalties.

Every coach dislikes a yellow flag before the play begins. Gailey seems to have a more intense disdain for presnap penalties than most.

"Yes, I do," Gailey said, practically spitting out the words.

Gailey certainly has taken inventory of how undisciplined the Bills were last season. They committed 108 penalties last season for 855 yards, finishing eighth in both categories.

The Bills were the NFL's most-penalized team for much of the season under head coach Dick Jauron. They eliminated some sloppiness down the homestretch with interim coach Perry Fewell.

The Bills committed a league-high 32 false starts (18.8 percent more than the next-closest team) for 148 yards. They also had four illegal formations and three delay of games. On a positive note, they committed defensive offside just six times.

But Gailey is an offensive coach, and the last thing he wants to watch is his huddle moving farther away from the first-down marker.

"Don't accept it," Gailey said after Saturday's late training-camp session at St. John Fisher College. "We work on it every day. We talk about it every day. I make it a point every day.

"I don't have any magic wand. I don't have any pixie dust. We're going to work on it every day. We make it a point of emphasis. Guys generally will respond to things you make a point of emphasis of."

Left tackle Demetrius Bell made six false starts in eight games. His replacement, Jonathan Scott, committed five false starts in 10 games. Right tackle Kirk Chambers had four, and left guard Andy Levitre three.

"Lack of focus is the biggest reason," Gailey said. "They get distracted. The defense moves around. You can't let distractions get you on the football field. You've got to remain focused and do your job."

Gailey had to crack the whip similarly when he became Dallas Cowboys head coach in 1998. He replaced Barry Switzer, not known as a disciplinarian.

"I can understand when a facemask penalty or a hold happens," Sports Illustrated quoted Gailey as telling the Cowboys before a game against the Arizona Cardinals in November 1998. "But I will not accept any more presnap penalties. They show a lack of concentration."

The Cowboys won 35-28 to push their record to 7-3. They committed one presnap penalty.

"That's the way it should be," Gailey said after the game. "If you're a smart team -- and you have to be to win consistently -- you don't commit those penalties. I try not to make frivolous statements to the team. I want them to know that everything I do has a direct correlation to winning."