RENTON, WA — Making 30 regular season starts in his first two NFL campaigns, cornerback Tre Flowers has been a constant in the Seahawks' defensive backfield since the dismantling of the storied "Legion of Boom." Burdened by inconsistent play, however, Flowers was surpassed by Quinton Dunbar and eventually D.J. Reed on the depth chart in 2020.
With Shaquill Griffin nursing an ailing hamstring and Quinton Dunbar requiring season-ending knee surgery, Flowers still managed to start seven games last year. But after suffering a hamstring injury of his own in Week 12, he could only sit and watch as Reed broke out and solidified a spot in Seattle's starting lineup opposite Griffin.
Although Griffin has since departed for the Jaguars, Flowers' path to reclaiming his job at right cornerback remained murky at best for most of this summer. But then Reed suffered a hip strain in the early days of training camp, thus catapulting the former safety convert back into the role for the preseason.
In Seattle's three exhibition matchups, Flowers played 76 total snaps and recorded eight tackles. He was targeted just three times on 46 coverage snaps, though he allowed all three to be caught for 41 yards. Nevertheless, head coach Pete Carroll saw something in the fourth-year man that he hasn't seen before.
“His consistency," Carroll revealed. "And he’s always been tough. He’s always been aggressive and physical and tough. But his consistency and really just making plays, he made plays all camp. All kinds of stuff. In zone and man-to-man, he’s much more comfortable making plays on the ball which was great to see.”
"It's really, like, resetting every day," Flowers said of his mindset. "If I have a good day, today I just let that go and I come back the next day and try to do my best. You know, just come to the line really playing the game, not thinking about everything else."
Despite Reed returning to practice, Flowers now finds himself working with the Seahawks' No. 1 defense with a week to go before the team faces the Colts next Sunday. While his efforts in the preseason and training camp ultimately landed him this opportunity, the underwhelming development of Seattle's left cornerback competition certainly played a role as well.
As a result, Reed has now been moved over to the left side and told reporters on Tuesday that's where he believes he'll be for the foreseeable future. Leading to the decision was Carroll's unwillingness to move Flowers from the right side—a spot he's played 87.8 percent of his career defensive snaps at. Furthermore, he's only registered three total snaps from the left since he entered the NFL.
"I haven’t had Tre play much on the other side and didn’t want to move him," Carroll stated. "That’s really how that came about. In general, we’ve continued to try to add competitive guys to the mix."
Over the next week, Flowers will attempt to hold off newcomers Sidney Jones and Nigel Warrior for the role.
"These guys are still up against it," Carroll continued. "They still have guys battling for spots now. Sidney is not coming in here to stand around, he wants to play. In time, when we get him adapted to what we’re doing and all of that then he’ll be battling, and you’ll see Nigel and you’ll see a couple of other things that happen there too.”
Of the six cornerbacks on Seattle's roster, Flowers (37 starts) holds a slight edge over Witherspoon (33) for the most starting experience in the group. Jones has 14, Reed has 10 and Warrior and Tre Brown have none.
Carroll sees that as a boon for Flowers as he tries to overcome his inconsistency woes.
“There’s a clarity that can come through experience that you realize that you don’t have to think about all of the things that could happen," Carroll explained. "You trust that you’ve been through it and you’re ready and prepared. That’s where your clarity and your mind come and the quiet in your mind comes. You relax and you let yourself play like you’re capable instead of thinking too much. The biggest hindrance to performance is overthinking and being distracted by that. That’s why you work so hard, why you drill so hard and it’s why good coaching shows you what you’re capable of doing, what’s your worth so that you believe in yourself and trust in yourself. You can’t play with confidence unless you get there.
"So, I think he’s added up three years of battling and decided to come in and battle his ass off for every chance he got and he did that. Look what happened. I’m really proud of him. I’ve loved the way he battled over the years and he’s had to earn a lot coming from the safety spot. He’s the best he’s been.”
Reflecting back on his summer, Flowers says he's "light years ahead" of where he's been in the past. Training in Georgia during the offseason, the Texas native worked on his ball skills with fellow cornerbacks A.J. Terrell of the Falcons, Jaycee Horn of the Panthers and Kindle Vildor of the Bears, among others. He also travelled to Arizona to progress even further under the tutelage of former Jets corner Darrelle Revis' trainer, Will Sullivan.
"I would say [I've improved at] a little bit of everything," Flowers told reporters on Thursday. "You know, I couldn't really just focus on one thing this offseason because it's so much I want to get better at; it's so much I need to get better at."
Flowers has heard the negative reviews of his play style the past three years. Now in his fourth year since transitioning from safety to the cornerback position, he's fully aware of what it will take for him to find more consistency at the highest level.
"It's definitely: 'I better get my head around,' 'I better touch the ball.' That's my goal every day," Flowers assessed. "Get a ball every day. [Pass breakup], interception, fumble—get a ball out a day."
His motto this year?
"Put it all together."