The Ereck Flowers concerns are real. The New York Giants can cross their fingers, pray and hope for the best, but it's not going to mitigate the risk they're taking by throwing Flowers out as their left tackle for a third straight season. The first two did not go so well.
The risk was never more evident than on Monday, when the Giants' left tackle had five or six awful reps (out of maybe 30). Defensive end Olivier Vernon, a second-team All-Pro, was doing as he pleased with seemingly little resistance.
To verify Flowers' struggles, I showed a handful of the lowlights to several ex-NFL offensive linemen and some independent offensive line coaches. They all agreed it was brutal. One said: “Worst I’ve seen, period.”
They confirmed what my eyes have been seeing throughout most of training camp. Flowers and the left tackle position remain the area of biggest concern for the Giants less than a month before the start of the season. Many of the problems that plagued him his first two seasons (poor hand placement, balance) still exist.
The Flowers problem is one that could stall a promising offense. The Giants have the weapons to catch passes with Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. They have the quarterback with Eli Manning, if he has ample time, which he didn’t for most of last season.
That’s in part because of Flowers’ struggles. Under constant pressure off the edges, the Giants' offense and Manning were an inconsistent mess despite finishing 11-5. They were 26th in the NFL in points scored.
The Giants returned all five starters on the offensive line this season. The hope is that Flowers, right tackle Bobby Hart and the entire offensive line will improve. Hart has looked better this summer. He has held his own against Jason Pierre-Paul and the Giants’ defensive ends.
Flowers, meanwhile, seems to have two or three really awful reps per day. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s not OK when it comes in 20 to 30 reps. The Giants are looking to run 60-plus plays per game. That measures out to six or seven free runs at Manning every game. It's dangerous living.
But it has been the Giants’ approach to handle Flowers with extreme caution this spring and summer. They’ve praised his work ethic, his conditioning, his desire to train at the team facility and his growth on the field. When asked about Flowers’ practice on Monday, that continued.
“I thought [defensive end] Olivier Vernon came out with his A-game [Monday], and I thought he had some great reps versus a lot of players,” coach Ben McAdoo said.
When it was noted that there are other teams and players who are going to bring their A-game this season, McAdoo went in harder on his young left tackle.
“I think Ereck [Flowers] did some good things at practice [Monday] too,” McAdoo said. “It wasn’t all one-sided.”
It was clearly a different perspective after watching Vernon dominate. So I went back Tuesday (the Giants were off Wednesday and return to practice Thursday afternoon) and again watched Flowers closely, during individual and team drills, to see if Monday was a fluke or a sign of things to come.
10:55 a.m. -- Practice starts. The Giants are stretching. Flowers looks like he’s having some fun. He’s dancing, or just head-bobbing, whatever you want to call that move. He’s lined up behind Hart. Those two never seem far apart throughout the practice.
11:12 a.m. -- They’re in the individual buildup portion of practice. That involves running offensive-line drills. Flowers is first up to a drill where a tackle practices working off the tight end. Flowers is first to go on almost all drills for the next 10 minutes.
11:28 a.m. -- They’re running half-line running drills. Flowers does OK in this in his five or so reps. He seems to play a little high, though, which prevents him from having the necessary power and getting significant push.
11:44 a.m. -- They start team drills. Flowers gets 19 snaps against competition.
He had three bad reps in pass protection. That’s on 11 pass plays. One could’ve easily been a hold, when he was beaten by defensive end Devin Taylor. Another likely would have subjected Manning to a big hit when Vernon beat him clean off the edge.
There were six quality pass-protection snaps and two in which Manning threw the ball so quickly he didn’t have to do much other than make sure his defender didn’t knock it down.
Flowers' run-blocking was fine. There were eight runs. Five of them were to the opposite side, the right side.
12:45 p.m. -- The team is running wind sprints (or timed interval striders) in the rain late in practice. They’re divided among the three fields by position groups. The offensive line is running together. Flowers is almost always one of the last to finish. Hart is beating him easily each run. Flowers, guard D.J. Fluker and center Jon Halapio were generally the three toward the back on most of the sprints.
Overall: It wasn’t a terrible day, but there was enough to reiterate the reason for concern. There were more than a few moments when Flowers' shoulders hunched and head sagged after plays. Three bad pass-protection reps out of 19 means around 9 or 10 over the course of a full game, if you scale it out to 60 or more snaps. That's not going to be good enough.
But the Giants seem to be crossing their fingers. They’re selling Flowers hard, hoping his offseason work pays dividends come the season.
“He was working from, I want to say, maybe a week and a half after the season, he was in here grinding it out, just trying to improve,” defensive tackle Damon Harrison said. "And when you see somebody, they’re willing to get better.
“Obviously it has to translate out there on the field, but as long as the want-to is there, I think he’ll be fine.”
This line of thinking remains a risky proposition.