Friday, February 03, 2017

Trey Flowers has been an early bloomer in the NFL

New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers speaks with members of the media in the team's locker room following an NFL football practice, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

By Jimmy Carter
February 3, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE — Trey Flowers watched the Super Bowl at the same place every year when he was growing up: his family’s home in Huntsville, Ala.

“We threw a party every Super Bowl,” Flowers said. “We were a sports family and we loved football, so every time the Super Bowl came on, we’d have a good meal and a lot of people come over.

“Everybody came to my house.”

The house will be empty this go around.

Flowers, a former Arkansas standout, is an integral part of AFC champion New England’s defense and will be in Houston as the Patriots face the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI on Sunday.

About a dozen members of the Flowers family are making the trek to Houston. It’s a familiar trip, one they’ve made before.

The last time Flowers took the field in Houston’s NRG Stadium also doubled as his final game in a Razorbacks uniform. The family was in attendance for that game, too, as Arkansas toppled Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl in December 2014.

Flowers was a force as a senior for the Hogs, earning all-SEC honors and finishing with six sacks and 15.5 tackles-for-loss, enough to move him into second place in school history in career tackles behind the line of scrimmage (47.5).

“Probably a guy that I bring up a lot to our players, even before he and Martrell (Spaight) came in and spoke before the Florida game (this year),” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “… To see guys that you coached or developed or had a part of their life be at the highest pinnacle of football, it’s overwhelming."

He’s emerged as a key presence for the Patriots, bursting onto the scene as arguably the best defensive player on the roster since late October. He led the team with seven sacks in the regular season, all of which came since week 8, which coincided with him earning a bigger role within the defense.

His teammates bestowed him with the nickname, "Technique," as a result of his attention to detail and fundamentals, qualities often lauded by the coaching staff.

The 6-foot-2, 265-pounder lines up all over the place on the Patriots’ defensive front. Sometimes he’ll work at defensive end, the position he played at Arkansas. He also can shift inside and operate as an undersized interior linemen.

"I honestly haven't seen too many players with the size he is who can defend the run and the pass on the inside like him,” Patriots defensive lineman Alan Branch said to CSNNE. “He's the only one I've ever met like that."

"He's able to play like he's 300 pounds, but he's not 300 pounds,” said Chris Long, another Patriots defensive lineman, to CSNNE. “It gives him versatility and he has a really good feel for where people are leaning. He's a really smart player. He's one of the smartest players on our defense and one of the best players, if not the best player, on our defense."

Flowers has been disruptive in both spots, recording multiple sacks three times over the course of the last two months of the regular season. That versatility, made possible by Flowers’ talent and his keen knowledge of the playbook, is invaluable and has allowed him to take on an expanded role within the system.

“This defense is predicated on a lot of moving parts, so you have to learn a lot of different positions,” Flowers said. “I’m probably going to get caught in a lot of situations, so to know a lot of different positions is key.”

Flowers’ mid-season surge put him on the radar after he’d become a bit of a forgotten man when he missed most of his rookie season with a shoulder injury. A fourth-round draft pick, he wasn’t exactly a can’t-miss prospect coming out of Arkansas. But at least one New England teammate knew what to expect.

Jake Bequette was a senior defensive end at Arkansas when Flowers was a freshman in 2011. Bequette, now in law school at Georgetown, was entering his fourth season with the Patriots when Flowers showed up for his first training camp as a rookie in 2015.

Not much had changed from their time together in Fayetteville.

“That freshman year at Arkansas, I’m not sure if said more than 10 words the entire season,” Bequette said. “…His personality has not changed at all. He’s very quiet, very humble. But he works hard and he carries himself like a professional.”

Bequette was an all-SEC performer as Arkansas went 11-2 his senior year, Flowers’ freshman season. Flowers, a 3-star recruit, was forced into action out of necessity against, of all teams, his home-state Alabama Crimson Tide with Bequette and Tenarius Wright sidelined by injuries.

Flowers performed admirably in front of family members in Bryant-Denny Stadium, especially given the circumstances. He wound up starting three games as a true freshman and finished his career as one of the most productive defensive linemen in school history.

“We all saw his potential,” Bequette said. “It was obvious to us that he had a very high ceiling, even as a true freshman. He absorbed all the information and he put it into practice out there on the field. And for a guy one year out of high school, that’s pretty incredible.”

It hasn’t taken him long to make the transition from college to the NFL, either. Bequette knows first-hand. He’d switched to tight end by the time Flowers made it to Foxboro, Mass.

“We went up against each other a couple times,” Bequette said.

Bequette sent his former teammate a congratulatory text after the Patriots’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. He’ll be watching the big game on a TV somewhere in Washington D.C. on Sunday.

Flowers’ family traded in their annual Super Bowl party for a seat at the real deal this year as they support their burgeoning star.

“I’m gonna have a lot of people down there supporting me,” Flowers said.

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