EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The pads aren't on yet, so there's not a lot to go on for Giants offensive line coach Mike Solari. But he's convinced, from what he's seen this offseason, that his much-maligned left tackle will be a better player this year.
Yes, the bar is low for Ereck Flowers after the struggles he endured during his first two NFL seasons. But the 23-year-old, who was the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft, showed a renewed desire and work ethic during the offseason. Solari saw how hard he worked at the Giants' facility during the offseason.
And he likes what he has seen.
"I think Ereck has shown his commitment by what he did so far in the offseason,'' Solari said on Wednesday. "Ereck has shown that it's important to him, and Ereck has shown he's better than he was last year. How can you say that? Well, what he's done in the weight room. He's leaner, quicker, stronger. He's better.
"Now, let's see the football."
The football has been a big problem for Flowers, especially last season when he was the weak link on a struggling line. As quarterback Eli Manning spent much of the season under siege from opposing pass rushers, the Giants' offense plummeted out of the Top 10 down to 25th in the league. The running game was even worse, ranking 29th and gaining just 88.2 yards per game.
"We have to do better as an offensive line -- and we will," Solari said. "It's going to always be a work in progress because it's still a young group. But there is no doubt in my mind that we will be better."
The project starters are definitely young. Bobby Hart, the likely starter at right tackle, is just 22. Center Weston Richburg is 25. Left guard Justin Pugh is 26. And John Jerry, the presumed starter at right guard, is the old man at 30 years old.
Much of their potential this season hinges on the tackles who struggled so much last season. Perhaps that's why Flowers and Hart decided to spend the offseason in New Jersey instead of returning home to Miami so they could work out together for months.
"They both were around, working out in the weight room. They were committed," Solari said. "Also, Bobby and Ereck were here together to develop some competition and camaraderie. So, it's really good, you could see the difference in the sense of their condition and where they are right now at this point."
That all sounds good, but there isn't much else the Giants can say right now. They weren't big players in what they considered an overpriced market for free agent linemen. The only significant player they brought in was D.J. Fluker, who is expected to play guard. And though they were eyeing Utah tackle Garett Bolles in the first round of the draft, once the Broncos took him before they picked, the Giants didn't draft another offensive lineman until Pitt's Adam Bisnowaty in the sixth round.
Were they right to mostly stand pat, especially with Flowers? Solari says yes, but he admits he won't know for sure until the hitting starts.
"That is exactly right, because of the intensity and so forth," he said. "At this point, in the sense of the stress on the aiming points, the footwork, and hand placements, you could develop that aspect. But when the pads come on, the intensity picks up tremendously. Now, can you carry over that technique, literally from walk-through, OTAs? When you put the pads on, now you could develop and really hone in on your skills."