ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos know the flags are coming. They got the memo, they get it.
The NFL has sent their officials to each training camp, Broncos' included, to remind the players that defensive holding and illegal contact by defenders on receivers are both "points of emphasis" this season and will be called to the letter of the rules. The Broncos got their first taste of that tightened enforcement during a 25-penalty preseason opener with the Seattle Seahawks.
It's safe to say a team that went out of its way to get more physical in the secondary this past offseason, is now trying to figure out where the line will be drawn by the officials once the regular season begins.
"We can adjust, everybody can adjust," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "The big thing is consistency, you just want to know what it's going to look like week-to-week. It's when there such a big difference between what one crew calls and the what another one calls the next week. No matter how tight it is, if you know what to expect, you can adjust."
It does matter to the Broncos since they spent plenty of money from the team's coffers to sign cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward in free agency as well as use a first-round draft pick on cornerback Bradley Roby. All three payers are well-versed in man coverage, all three play with a physical edge and all three were what Broncos' football boss John Elway was looking for to help a team that surrendered far too many big plays through the air last season.
The Broncos surrendered 61 pass plays of at least 20 yards last season after giving up just 39 pass plays of at least 20 yards in 2012. They want to affect the ability of opposing receivers to get into their routes, they want to reduce the number of free releases those opposing pass catchers get at the line of scrimmage.
Which means they are going to have to figure out what works and what doesn't and they're going to have to figure it out quickly. The Broncos face Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer, Colin Kaepernick, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady among their first eight games of the season.
"We know it's coming," Talib said. "We've seen the video from the league, we've had (the officials) in practice."
Thursday night Ward, Talib and backup safety Duke Ihenacho were each flagged for defensive holding, linebacker Nate Irving was flagged for illegal contact and linebacker Danny Trevathan was flagged in the end zone for pass interference. And while Trevathan's penalty may be worthy of an argument -- it looked equal parts offensive pass interference or a potential no-call -- it was the kind of outing the Broncos had planned to see.
"We knew there was going to be an emphasis, we practiced hard against it," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "It was some good, some bad, not getting into detail, but pretty much how I thought it would go and some things we can definitely correct.”
It's why the Broncos have beefed up the pass rush as well. Because while the flags are expected to fly in the secondary, the Broncos see their best option for easing the pressure on the secondary as adding heat on the quarterback so he is unable to find a receiver in the first place.
The Broncos see getting to the quarterback as a loophole of sorts, with DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller and Quanterus Smith swirling in rush situations as the Broncos line up with five, six or seven defensive backs.
"No question," Ware said. "We can make things easier on our DBs if we consistently get to the quarterback. We can keep the ball from getting out, or force the quarterback to have to throw it away, then those calls aren't an issue."
"We feel like we can play it however it needs to be played," Harris Jr. "If it's called tight, it's called tight. On defense you know the league is always looking for more points and more passing and more excitement. So it's not a surprise or anything like that. I just hope it's the same week-to-week, game-to-game, so we know what to expect."