The Redskins signed him this offseason with the idea of making him a left guard. At 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds with long arms, they thought he would fit in well at his new position. Then Trent Williams, their own left tackle, a Pro Bowl player in his past seven NFL seasons, skipped minicamp and has continued his holdout into training camp, leaving Flowers as his only logical replacement.
Given the way things turned out in New York, Washington could see this as a disaster. Flowers, 25, appeared to struggle at left tackle in the offseason workouts, so it’s easy to understand the concern.
But the Redskins don’t show worry. At last not yet. Most people shrug when the subject of Williams comes up with players, and Coach Jay Gruden has said they expect Williams will return at some point, after working out whatever it is that is keeping him from camp. If they have to practice with Flowers at left tackle, they will practice with Flowers at left tackle.
“We got Ereck Flowers to be an offensive lineman,” Gruden said. “If everything went perfectly, there is a chance we move him to guard. If everything doesn’t work out, the great thing about Ereck is that he’s played both left tackle and right tackle, so the odds are we start him out at tackle in training camp up here.”
But Flowers seems to see Williams’s absence as more than an opportunity to play tackle again. He seems to view it as a chance to show he isn’t the same player who didn’t succeed in New York.
“I learned a lot there,” he said. “I grew as a man there, I learned a lot of things. I came there when I had just turned 21, and over the years I did a lot of things and I think it helped me grow as a person. Not just on the field but off the field, learning how to handle certain situations and grow as a person and in my faith.”
Flowers never appeared to be a good fit in a city such as New York. He grew up in Miami and played at the University of Miami. He’s soft-spoken and seemed surprised when the New York media hammered him for not playing well. His good friend and former Giants teammate Landon Collins, who signed as a free agent with the Redskins a few days before Flowers, always thought the attacks in New York wore on Flowers, forcing him to play worse and worse on the field.
When asked about this Thursday, Flowers shrugged. He was glad to leave New York when he did, finishing last season in Jacksonville. He called the change “a breath of fresh air.” But he also acted almost thankful he had failed with the Giants.
“I don’t take much for granted, and I appreciate the ups and downs because stuff like that makes you stronger,” he said. “It gives you a different perspective on things you know, as opposed to things always being great in your life.”
He could have signed other places, but he wanted to be coached by Bill Callahan, the Redskins assistant head coach who oversees the offensive line. He knew players who had played for Callahan, and those players said Callahan made them better. And even in the short time he was been with the Redskins, he thinks he has learned so much more than he did in his previous seasons.
He has watched Morgan Moses, Washington’s right tackle, and noticed that Moses mixes up his sets — or styles of pass protection — sometimes jumping out at the pass rusher or turning to his side or standing in the more traditional upright stance. Flowers had always “sat back,” playing in the upright stance, often giving pass rushers time to blow past him. The idea of “switching sets” has been an enormous revelation and a reason he believes he can be different in Washington.
Flowers smiled. He loves what he calls “the mentality” of this Redskins team. “A lot of dudes want to work hard,” he said.
And then as if to prove what he meant, he picked up his helmet and walked over to the side of a warmup field, where Moses was instructing some of the younger offensive linemen on different ways of attacking defenders. He demonstrated his point by slapping his hand hard against a handful of blocking sleds set up in a semicircle. Flowers nodded as Moses talked and then tried to duplicate the hand slaps.
It was a small moment, almost lost in the shrill howls for autographs from the nearby fans. But it was an important one because any moment in which Flowers gets better is essential, given that no one knows when Williams will return. And the player signed to be an experiment at guard, the one ready for another chance, has become the one who must replace the Redskins’ best player for however long he is gone.