FOXBOROUGH — Watching Trey Flowers after a game, you start to really fathom just what it is the Patriots are asking of him on a regular basis this season.
The defensive lineman, who has taken on a considerably larger role this year than what he was asked to handle in his first two seasons in the league, usually takes a long time to rest, recover and — eventually — reach a point where he can speak with the media.
But such is life when you’ve going from an under-the-radar, complementary part of the scheme to a central role in New England’s defensive game plan: In two-plus years, he’s gone from playing in less than one percent of the defensive snaps his rookie season to 91 percent through eight games this year. That’s most among New England’s linemen and fourth-most on defense overall.
Of course, when you produce like Flowers has lately, it's hard not to keep him on the field.
He really blossomed down the stretch last season, and he hasn’t missed a beat in 2017. According to Pro Football Focus, dating back to Week 17 of the 2016 season, he has recorded at least two total pressures in 12 consecutive games. The 6-foot-2, 268-pounder — who was described by one teammate as “country strong” late last season — is tied with linebacker Kyle Van Noy for the team lead in sacks (3.5). And at the midway point of the season, our own Greg A. Bedard has Flowers second on the team in quarterback pressures (21.5, trailing only Deatrich Wise and his 22), tops on the team in hits (10.5) and among the leaders in total run stuffs (4.5).
“There's not that many guys that just come in and right away, on the whole, if you look at everybody, that just play all the snaps immediately,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said of Flowers. “He’s a guy that falls into that category. Someone (who’s) worked really hard to try to earn himself some playing time on the field and has shown the consistency to be out there as much as we can get him out there and put him in those positions.”
He’s done all of this while lining up at a variety of positions along New England’s defensive front. Bill Belichick acknowledged this week that some of the things they have asked Flowers to do this year are “(not) always the best thing for him, but sometimes, he’s the best we have at it.”
So far, it’s all worked.
“(He has) the most experience of our defensive linemen,” Belichick said of Flowers. “He's also athletic and can handle a degree of versatility in our responsibilities. I’m not sure that’s always the best thing for him, but sometimes he’s the best we have at it. He does a good job and works hard at it, and does what’s best for the team. (That’s) one of the things you love about Trey, is how committed he is to the team and how willing he is to do whatever it takes, whatever we need him to do and he does a pretty good job of it.”
Because of health and personnel and matchups -- as well as the departures of the likes of Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard -- the Patriots have put a lot on his plate this year. And whether it’s been lining up over the nose and taking on centers or other interior offensive linemen or working outside a tackle as a defensive end/edge presence, Flowers has handled his business nicely, becoming one of the Patriots’ most indispensable players.
When asked about the added level of responsibility and the increased expectations when it comes to his versatility, Flowers shrugged.
“I think when you understand the scheme and the defense and what they want you to do, you can plug yourself in anywhere,” he told Bostonsportsjournal.com. “I just feel as if I’m out there on the field, that’s an opportunity for me to make a play. I’m blessed with the opportunity and I got out there and make the best of it.”
The increase in snaps and performance has also led to a spike in double teams. New England defensive line coach Brendan Daly said that’s simply part of being a productive player.
“The guy, he shows up and he’s productive. He’s not surprising people. You go into the game studying the tape, and he’s going to show up,” Daly told Bostonsportsjournal.com. “He’s done a very nice job.
“Trey is one of those guys, he’s not going to say much. You’re not going to find a complaint out of him anytime soon. He works. That’s what he does. He figures out how to deal with it. How to maximize his opportunities when he doesn’t have those situations. How to work through them when he does. And I’d say he’s also grown in terms of when some of those things happen, how to play it to give some other guys some opportunities to be productive or disruptive in those situations.”
“I understand that’s what comes with a little success. That’s just the name of the game,” Flowers said when asked about the double teams. “I just have to prepare for it and work a little bit harder and keep working and try to continue to produce even while I’m getting a lot of attention.”