EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Even by Odell Beckham Jr.'s standards, this was a spectacular play: a leaping, one-handed, almost-backhanded catch at the 5-yard line, followed by enough body control to hang on, switch hands and scamper untouched into the end zone. There was a gasp from the crowd, followed by the loudest cheers of the day.
There was only one problem: about 35 yards behind him, the play had already blown up.
"It's nice that it was completed," Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. "But no, it wasn't nice that there was a sack on the play."
There was a sack on the play because of something that has become an all-too familiar sight at Giants training camp -- Olivier Vernon blew by embattled left tackle Ereck Flowers, and what would've been a free shot at Eli Manning, had contact been allowed.
It's not fair to judge Flowers on one play in training camp practice, or even a bunch of plays over several weeks when the players are only sporadically engaging in full contact and wearing full pads. It's probably not even fair to judge him on the quarter of action he saw in the Giants' preseason opener on Friday night when his performance was very up and down.
What it was, though, was a reminder that the Giants are banking on a heck of a lot of improvement from their 23-year-old former first-round pick who has struggled through his first two NFL seasons. They resisted their urge to switch Flowers' position this offseason or even to bring in a veteran to compete with or push him along. They decided he was their guy, for better or for worse.
And everyone is still waiting to see the better.
The Giants have been steadfast in their belief that they will … eventually. They hyped -- overhyped -- his decision to stay in New Jersey during the offseason to work out with young right tackle Bobby Hart rather than working out at home in Miami. Somehow, even though there were no team activities until the Giants' offseason workout program officially opened in April, that was hailed as an example of Flowers' renewed dedication. From there, the Giants drew a straight line to his expected improvement.
That seemed like a stretch, and pretty soon it has to be less theoretical and more of reality. Where was the evidence of any improvement in the preseason opener? The one sack he "gave up" to Steelers rookie linebacker T.J. Watt in that game wasn't really his fault -- the pressure came over center Weston Richburg and quarterback Josh Johnson got caught trying to escape -- but Flowers was the one engaged with Watt, in his first NFL game, and he didn't manage to block him out of the way.
Is that a sign of impending doom? Obviously not -- at least not necessarily. But it's not a sign of dramatic improvement either. Flowers, when he last talked to the media eight days ago, said he's in better shape than he was last season (though he won't divulge his weight) and admitted this is a big year for him and that he has something to prove.
Over the next two weeks, he'll get plenty of preseason action. The time for him to prove it is now.
Of course, if he doesn't, it's not like the Giants have other options. They made a few waves last week when McAdoo gave undrafted rookie Chad Wheeler three reps with the first-team line, just to get a look at him. Wheeler got "beat like a drum" by Vernon on the first rep before settling down for the next two. And when he came in with the second-team line on Friday night, he struggled. If Flowers falters, Wheeler doesn't look like a viable, ready-made option right now.
Which brings the Giants back to where they've been: banking on this improvement that Flowers has yet to show. They have very little hope of fixing their offensive problems from last season if the offensive line isn't any better, and they're not going to get much better if Flowers struggles the way he has the last two seasons.
They desperately need him to prove he was worth the ninth overall pick the Giants used on him in the 2015 draft. They desperately need him to prove they were right when they didn't move him or replace him.
Maybe he will, but right now the Giants are still waiting. Meanwhile everyone else is left to wonder how many more spectacular plays will be called back or never happen in the first place because Flowers' side of the line broke down.