Judging New York Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers by his 2015 campaign is a difficult business.
On one hand, he was a talented rookie who was forced into a role for which he wasn't supposed to be ready, and played the whole season with a high ankle sprain.
On the other hand, he looked like an injured rookie who was thrown into the fire.
So while Flowers' 2015 campaign could be lauded for his toughness and determination, and there were flashes of good play, it wasn't what the Giants need from a player who is supposed to be their franchise left tackle.
When he was drafted, Flowers' was considered a raw, but athletically gifted tackle. His technique could be considered unrefined at best, but he made up for it with fantastic physical tools. Long arms and massive strength kept the Hurricanes' quarterbacks clean despite Flowers' sloppy feet and and usage.
Flowers appeared to make headway on his footwork issue in his first summer as a Giant, but a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 1, and then re-injured later in the year, hampered any development he could make his rookie year. That unstable base, in turn, held back any progress Flowers could make in his hand usage as well. As a result, he was forced to rely almost solely on his size and strength and just try to not lose his battles with defenders.
But now Ereck Flowers, and his ankle, are healthy and practicing consistently under the tutelage of Mike Solari. Is it making a difference? Let's look at his play Friday night against the Miami Dolphins and see what we can learn.
Flowers only played the Giants' first two offensive series, so there the sample size is pretty limited. What's more, most of the Giants' runs were to the right side. That being said, run blocking has never been Flowers' problem. He showed off his power, controlling the defender in front of him, and several times finished the play by throwing his man to the ground. He also moved well when asked to get out and block in space.
Pass blocking was the source of Flowers' biggest problems in 2015, especially against speed rushers. The bad news here is that Flowers' hands still need work. He has acknowledged that over the summer and throughout camp that he has been working on using his punch better and more consistently.
That still needs work.
Flowers showed a tendency to keep his hands low and a bit wide, giving defenders a chance to get into his pads before he could use his impressive arm length to hold them at bay.
The good news with Flowers' pass protection is that his footwork definitely -- to my eye, anyway -- appears to be improving over what he showed in 2015. His stance appeared to be a tad narrower than last year (though the absence of Coaches' Tape makes that a bit difficult to verify) and his footwork itself looks much more crisp. While Flowers had a tendency to take exaggerated steps and lunge at defenders in his rookie year, his footwork against Miami was short and crisp.
Perhaps most promising was his handling of DE/OLB Chris McCain at 12:13 in the first quarter, an over-thrown pass to Sterling Shepard on the post route. The pass play may have been a failure, but it wasn't due to Flowers' blocking. He was matched up against the 6-foot-5, 240-pound McCain, who came on a speed rush, exactly the kind of scenario Flowers struggled with his rookie year. McCain fired off the ball and attempted a spin move to the inside, but Flowers met the move and stonewalled it. When McCain turned it into a second spin going the other way, Flowers was able to get back and push him past the quarterback, giving Nassib the room he needed to launch the ball.
Is Flowers improving? Early indications suggest that yes, he is.
Will it be enough, and will he improve fast enough? We'll just have to keep an eye on him throughout the preseason. Fortunately, he is going against Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon every day in practice. They had excellent nights against Miami and were two of the most disruptive edge rushers in the NFL at the close of the 2015 season.
Flowers still has work to do, especially with his hands, but if his footwork is rounding into shape, that should give him a solid foundation to improve his hands and finally unleash all of his prodigious power.