Is this the year Ereck Flowers finally blooms?
You know you’ve had a rough year as an offensive lineman when your biggest and most talked about hit was not made on the field against an opposing defensive lineman, but rather against a reporter.
Such was the 2016 season of New York Giants starting left tackle Ereck Flowers, who thus far has struggled in each of his first two seasons.
A rare top-10 pick by the Giants in 2015, Flowers has spent his first couple of years as the de facto face of the Giants’ offensive line problems.
“Sophomore slump” would be describing the former Hurricane’s second season in the most generous terms possible, as Flowers led all the Giants in penalties (13); tied with Tampa Bay’s Donovan Smith for the most penalties by an offensive lineman; and was second only to Odell Beckham’s arch-nemesis, Josh Norman, for the league’s overall lead.
Shoddy and inconsistent technique were regular staples of Flowers 2016 performance, though it probably didn’t help that he had a revolving door at left guard next to him thanks to Justin Pugh’s knee injury.
Regardless, many fans have already whipped out the “bust” label for the young man-mountain, who this year faces a huge make-or-break season.
Eh, not so fast.
When the calendar flipped to 2017, suddenly the Giants brass, from co-owner John Mara, to general manager Jerry Reese to head coach Ben McAdoo and offensive line coach Mike Solari about Flowers is–wait for it–optimism.
Mere days after the heartbreak that was the Giants’ lone playoff game last season, Reese confirmed the organization’s belief in Flowers, no doubt raising the eyebrows of several Giants fans, but staying committed to the first round pick.
“I think that he’s a big, strong kid who has a chance to be a really good player,” Reese said in January. “Ereck has played basically every snap since he has been here. He is an early-out junior, still a young player, but it is time for him to show us the fruits of being a first round draft pick, and I still think he has a chance to do that.”
McAdoo even praised Flowers for his work in the aforementioned playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, remarking it was the best game Flowers had played.
Flowers has the support of his superiors, but that support can easily vanish week-to-week, or even be transferred to another without warning. It’s up to him to that trust and confidence and become the vital contributor the Giants envisioned they were getting when they took him ninth overall.
“We have seen Ereck make progress and we just need to continue with that progress,” McAdoo said upon the conclusion of minicamp. “Ereck is a tough young man.”
Why is the organization so confident in Flowers?
The fact that Flowers is a high pick for a team that rarely gets those helps, but the Giants have not missed an opportunity to praise Flowers’s offseason since players began reporting to Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
Rather than traveling home to Miami, Flowers elected to spend the offseason starting in February in chilly New Jersey, constantly showing up to the team facility to work out.
The change in his workout and dietary habits, was clear at the first few practices of the year, as Flowers appeared more svelte and lean. The lineman himself referred to the offseason as the “smartest” he’s had yet.
What has been the top skill that Flowers has worked on during his eventful offseason?
Flowers was somewhat brief with reporters when he met with them at the conclusion of minicamp, but he did mention that he improved his hand placement, which will be vital in his improvement.
Last season, Flowers was charged with holding 10 times, tied for second in the league behind Greg Robinson of the Rams. Flowers also mentioned he worked on his footwork, something he improved on during boxing drills recommended for the entire offensive line by position coach Mike Solari.
McAdoo noted he appeared “(lighter) on his feet”, while offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan praised Flowers for his leanness, saying he is a special case in a position group more often that not regarded for being big.
When we talk about leaner, we certainly don’t want a guy walking around at a buck eighty. We know that he is going to have that size,” Sullivan explained.
“It’s not all pass protection. It’s certainly a run blocking that’s important. Just being able to change direction, to redirect, to react to the defender’s second move, those types of things, that type of quickness, and I say that, but he has also added some strength and some of those things which should help him.”
Will Flowers stay at tackle?
Even last season, there were rumors that Flowers could switch positions on the line, much like his teammate Bobby Hart. Reese said in January that a possible switch would be “evaluated”, but thus far Flowers has spent the entirety of the young year at tackle, and looks as though he’s not going anywhere any time soon, barring injury, of course.
McAdoo, Reese, Sullivan, etc. can sing the praises of Flowers from now until the Super Bowl, but talk is cheap unless Flowers comes out and picks up right where he left off for most of last season.
Entering the third year of a four-year rookie deal, this is a vital year if Flowers plans on being a contributor for the Giants’ future endeavors, especially with the team set to make a decision on whether to pick up the option year of Flowers rookie deal after this coming season.
The logic dictates that Flowers’s sophomore year was such a downer, he has nowhere to go but up, but the Giants are going to need more than that if they wish to contend for than just an NFC East title.
To his credit, Flowers has made his intentions to improve apparent this offseason. If his efforts translate to the game field, the Giants offense could truly be something special this year.