The New England Patriots spent an early 4th round pick in 2015 on pass rusher Trey Flowers, but left the Ferrari in the garage after Flowers suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason. The 6’2, 265 lbs pass rusher comes with a monstrous wingspan and great natural ability that the team hopes to tap in 2016.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss shared some insight on the possible use for Flowers in his Sunday Notes- which also includes information on the Patriots offseason practices, former defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, and long snapper Joe Cardona- and it doesn’t help clarify some of the positional changes this offseason.
According to Reiss, the Patriots started to use Flowers as an interior rusher, where players like Jabaal Sheard and Chandler Jones have aligned in the past. Flowers doesn’t come with as much special teams ability as fellow young edge defenders like Geneo Grissom and Rufus Johnson, so Flowers will need to stand out on defense in order to win a roster spot.
The Patriots used three or more defensive ends on 23.7% of snaps last season, but the expectation was for Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, and Chris Long to serve as the three-man rotation in 2016.
Ninkovich has spent the entire offseason as a stand-up linebacker, while free agent signing Shea McClellin joined the rotation on the edge. Some trio of Ninkovich, Sheard, Long, and McClellin project to be the three-man rotation.
But injury risk will always be real, especially with Ninkovich at 32 years old with 81 straight starts on the edge and Long at 31 years old and two straight seasons marred by injury. Grissom played 11.9% of snaps last season, which should be the floor for the 4th defensive end on the roster.
There’s also the potential for a defensive end to take over for Dominique Easley’s former role as a sub-rusher on passing downs, as Easley played 25.0% of snaps last season. In other words, there are snaps to be had for a stand-out pass rusher.
The offseason is time for players to expand their skill sets and for coaches to see if there is any potential at different roles, so we might end up seeing Ninkovich at defensive end and McClellin at linebacker, and Flowers riding the pine.
But anything is possible, and we’ll be watching to see if Flowers can make a big enough name for himself on defense to win a key role.
Until then, enjoy some clips of Flowers from last preseason.