DENVER — As nearly every other team in the NFL is putting pads on for the first time, the Broncos are hitting their offensive stride.
The Broncos were the first team in the league to report to camp, and they put in five days of practice before most teams held their first.
The payoff? Added time for Denver's offense to jell. And over the past three practices, the unit has done just that.
"I honestly think over the last three days, we're starting to see some of the progress [from] some of the hard work that we've been putting in," Joe Flacco said after Saturday's stadium practice. "[Head Coach] Vic [Fangio]'s defense does a really good job. They've seen a lot of the routes we run all spring and all summer, but I really think the last few days we're starting to put it together.
"It's been a struggle at times, but we're starting to get some things to pop and guys [to] become pretty consistent."
The Broncos' offense continued to enjoy success on Saturday, a day after Fangio said the offense had its best practice of training camp.
The unit's highlight came when Flacco took a deep shot to wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who drew a pass interference call on Chris Harris Jr. The play would've netted the Broncos about 45 yards.
That throw, Flacco said, was a product of being smart about when to take shots down the field.
"The most basic thing about quarterback is just decision making," Flacco said. "When you get a defense that's going to take [the] No. 1 [option] away a lot and then [the] No. 2, it forces you to know your progressions and be a good decision maker. So there's a lot of benefits with that. There's also a ton of benefits of having really tough practices and then going into the games and hopefully making it a little bit easier."
Fangio acknowledged Flacco is "getting more comfortable," but he wants to see more from his starter ahead of the Sept. 9 season opener in Oakland.
"You know, it's a new team, new system," Fangio said. "We all know he can throw well. I think he's just got to get a little bit more efficient. Efficiency means a lot of things: throwing it to the right guy a little bit quicker, throwing it a little bit more accurate, getting more work with these routes and these receivers. We're not there, but we're getting better."
Flacco has played in Broncos Stadium at Mile High before, but he admitted it was "weird" to get ready in the home locker room.
Rookie Drew Lock, who is competing to be Flacco's backup, noticed a "little pep in [Flacco's] step" as the veteran came out to practice.
"I think he's excited to make some more memories on this field in the blue and orange instead of black and purple," Lock said. "I think he's going to do a great job. Like I said before I came in here, I was really excited to learn from Joe and figure it all out."
Lock, it appeared Saturday, is indeed starting to figure it out.
He pieced together several impressive throws during seven-on-seven periods on Saturday, and Fangio has seen the second-round pick's improvement.
"He's doing well," Fangio said. "He had some good periods here today. I think he did his best work in the seven-on-seven, which isn't football. But it's progress. You need to see that progress in 11-on-11 and then ultimately in games. But he's getting better."
Lock said he's felt his progression over the course of training camp, but he recognized he has a lot to improve upon. On Saturday, though, he said he "felt really good."
"I felt all right all day today," Lock said. "It's obviously a little different coming out here with all these people, but we've played in front of 100,000 people [at Missouri] before, so it was just going out there and making plays and just doing what you've done in training camp and just bringing it out to this field instead."
And during his first trip to Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Lock got a sense of how the fans feel about Denver's quarterbacks.
"It was actually loud at practice today," Lock said. "I can only imagine what this place is like full. Broncos Country definitely loves their Qs."
The officiating crew at Saturday's practice whistled the Broncos for 12 penalties, and Fangio pointed out his team's errors during his media session.
"Eight of them on offense, four of them on defense — way too many," Fangio said. "This team last year was 31st in the NFL in penalties called. That's got to stop. We've got to improve that. We've emphasized it. Obviously I haven't done a good enough job doing that, and obviously they haven't done a good enough job of listening. That's got to be a main focus. It has been. It's got to continue."
PREPARING FOR GAME DAY
Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello called in plays from the coaching box on Saturday, which was his first chance to work with the team at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
Fangio said the Broncos will continue to iron out the process over the course of their five preseason games.
"It was good for the offensive coaches in particular to experience that and go through it," Fangio said. "We've still got five games to have Rich up there and have those guys operate. We didn't completely do it the way we did it on defense, but I think it was good to do that."