If the second-year left tackle can build off his rookie season and make great strides, the Giants' offensive line looks a whole lot better. The left side -- with Flowers and guard Justin Pugh -- becomes an instant strength, an area the Giants can lean on heavily in the run game and not worry about when quarterback Eli Manning goes back to pass. With the right side of their line filled with question marks, they need it desperately.
If Flowers remains a below-average left tackle, the offense may have already reached its ceiling. They can only be so good (top 10 last season) with a line that doesn't consistently create running lanes and that allows constant pressure. Flowers struggled for most of 2015 to protect Manning, who was often forced to release the ball quicker than the Giants would’ve preferred. With the right side of the line looking to be average at best again this year, the Giants need to be able to count on Flowers so their offense can reach its maximum potential.
So much rides on Flowers' technique, which is what needs to improve for him to reach the next level. At 22, he’s already an NFL starter. Now, he needs to become a quality starter.
As many of you have asked, I put the Giant Spotlight on Flowers this week. Here is what was noticeable after watching practices on Monday and Tuesday, reviewing some of the film and confiding with several offensive line experts.
Technique remains a problem
The critique is not a myth. After looking at three running plays early in Tuesday's practice, there was a common theme. Flowers' first step was good. It was quick. But then he started drifting laterally. He lost momentum and struggled to keep his hands inside the defender’s shoulders. This allowed defensive end Olivier Vernon to overpower Flowers and win the leverage game. Vernon pushed Flowers into the backfield with regularity during the two practices.
It’s fair to wonder if this is something that will be fixed. Flowers is in his second professional season and he worked for three years with well-respected line coach Art Kehoe at the University of Miami. If it didn’t happen there, why now?
This is something to watch as Flowers enters his second season and while working with new line coach Mike Solari.
Flowers’ teammates and the Giants had concerns last year about the lineman's rigidity and attitude. He had a rocky relationship with former offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, who is now with the 49ers. It created an uncomfortable and unhealthy work environment.
But the early returns this year under Solari have been positive. The change has given Flowers new life. He has a different (and improved) attitude, according to multiple sources. This is promising. It could mean he’s finally open to making the changes necessary for him to become a standout left tackle.
Watching Flowers on the field, it’s obvious there is potential. He is massive (6-foot-6, 329) and moves well. At times, he’s quick and powerful. He proved last year that he wants to play and that he’s tough. Flowers played through ankle problems throughout the season. It was so bad that he said they weren’t fully healed until several months after the season ended.
Flowers' best asset may be those 34 1/2-inch arms. When he gets those long arms extended and in a defender's chest, it’s over. His long arms also allow him to protect the edge even when it appears he’s beat.
"Well, as far as mixing it up, he has great athletic ability," Vernon said. "He kind of reminds me of Brandon Albert a little bit with how athletic he is. He is also very strong."
There are rays of hope when it comes to Flowers’ game.
After struggling with ankle injuries last year, the problem has been nonexistent this summer. Flowers is moving without limitations at training camp, and his ankles don't appear to be a problem moving forward.
The Vernon Factor
The good news is that Flowers gets to practice against Vernon every day. This is a challenge that should have long-term benefits. From what I can tell at practice, Vernon is really good with his hands. He’s strong. He wins the leverage game, an area where Flowers needs to improve. The daily competition should help.
Flowers can take tips and learn from his fellow Hurricane alumnus.
"When it comes down to it, we tidbit and share a little bit about what we have going on," Vernon said.
The two practices didn’t erase concerns. The weaknesses in Flowers’ game from last year still seem to exist for the most part. He remains overly reliant on his natural talent, and loses more battles with Vernon than he wins.
But at least there is progress. If Solari really has his ear, it could be game-changing. Flowers doesn’t need an overhaul to his game to be a good left tackle; he simply needs some refinement. It doesn’t appear to have happened yet, but there is time. The Giants season opener is still a month away.