Flowers has measurables similar to other Seahawks cornerbacks, one reason Seattle thinks he can make a successful transition to a new position.
If Rashaad Penny was the Seahawks’ draft pick who inspired the most-heated debate and Michael Dickson the one who elicited the biggest eyebrow (from those wondering about taking a punter in the fifth round, anyway) then Tre Flowers might be the most intriguing.
He also, to some draft analysts, appeared the most mystifying.
One of the many criticisms levied at the Seahawks’ draft was that they didn’t take a cornerback.
Only, as the team made clear within minutes of Flowers’ pick in the fifth round, they did, just sort of in what might be viewed as the typical Seahawks’ way: drafting a safety to convert to corner.
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Seattle has hardly been alone in playing the position conversion game through the years, and both their willingness to do it and success rate at it may be somewhat overstated.
The Seahawks have drafted just one other safety during the Pete Carroll era with the idea of turning him into a cornerback — Eric Pinkins, a sixth-round pick in 2014. Pinkins didn’t work out at cornerback and played only sparingly for Seattle, mostly on special teams, and is currently out of the league.
The Seahawks, though, made it work with undrafted free agent DeShawn Shead in 2012. Shead played both cornerback and safety at Portland State but was primarily a safety his final two collegiate seasons. Seattle, though, thought all along that at 6-2, 212 pounds, Shead could maybe offer greater value at cornerback, and after initially making his mark as a jack-of-all-trades in the secondary, Shead became a starting corner in 2016.
In Flowers, the Seahawks see the same kind of measurables as other players who found success at cornerback in their system. He’s listed at 6-3, 203 pounds, with an arm length of 33-7/8 inches — far above the 32 inches that has long been seen as the minimum Seattle likes in its cornerbacks. That’s almost the exact size as Richard Sherman, who is 6-3, 195, but with longer arms — Sherman measured at 32 inches at the NFL Combine in 2011.
So while Flowers played little cornerback at Oklahoma State, spending most of his time at free and strong safety, the Seahawks are taking a flyer — and a low-risk fifth-round one, at that — that he can, well, blossom at a position where Seattle has a need for some young cornerbacks to develop after the departures of the likes of Sherman, Shead and Jeremy Lane this offseason.
“He’s got all of the tools that you’re looking for,’’ Carroll said following the team’s rookie mini-camp. “He’s real long. He’s feet are really quick and light and he’s got terrific speed, and he’s already shown all of the abilities to make the plays by playing safety for all of those years – the tackles, the hits and the plays on the ball and all of that. That’s not even a concern of mine.’’
What is a concern is if Flowers can master the physical and mental differences in playing cornerback in Seattle’s system compared to safety.
The Seahawks ask their cornerbacks to use a “step-kick’’ technique that, if not totally unique to the Seahawks, also isn’t used by every college or NFL team. Specifially, corners are asked to take a step sideways at the snap to assure they don’t overreact at the line of scrimmage to any moves by receivers. The kick comes when corners have to turn and run with the receiver once the receiver has committed to a move.
A perception has grown that veterans who come to Seattle and haven’t had to use the kick-step technique have difficulty adapting to it at mid-career, one reason the Seahawks’ best cornerbacks in the Carroll era have all been homegrown.
But as tricky as the footwork can be to master is the mentality that it takes — essentially, the patience to not just react to the first move a receiver makes, something safeties, who typically line up further off the line of scrimmage depending on the alignment, don’t have to worry about.
The biggest challenge to adjusting to the Seahawks’ way of playing cornerback is “believing in the discipline it takes to do it, and really finding that patience it takes to sit on the line of scrimmage and not be jittery and all of that,’’ Carroll said. “Guys think that they are supposed to go up there and beat the heck out of wide receivers and that’s what they think bump-and-run is. There is so much more to it than that. It’s the discipline it takes over time to develop the patience is really what the challenge is – if they are equipped.’’
Carroll said Flowers showed positive signs of picking it all up during the team’s rookie mini-camp.
“He showed like he really understood right off the bat,’’ Carroll said. “So it was a very good demonstration of what the future could hold. I was really pleased with that.”
Flowers said it began to make more sense by the end of mini-camp.
“Staying patient and being coachable,’’ he said of what he thinks the keys will be to making the switch.
The real time to judge, though, won’t come until August, when training camp gets heated and games begin, and patience and discipline are put to their toughest test.
But aside from the obvious measureables, the Seahawks also think other aspects of Flowers’ background make him a good candidate for the position switch.
He was voted by teammates as a captain last season and graduated in December with a degree in management, and minors in sports management and marketing. An uncle, Erik Flowers, was a first-round pick in 2000 of the Bills in 2000 and played five seasons in the NFL and brother and sister also played college sports (brother, Rodney, football at Langston, and sister, Aleshia, basketball at South Florida).
He also played through heart-wrenching personal trauma late in the 2015 season when his father, Rodney, suffered significant injuries — including a shattered pelvis — when his motorcycle rammed into a car. Rodney Flowers spent almost a month in a medically-induced coma, and per NewsOK.com, lost almost 100 pounds in the process.
But with the urging of his family, Tre Flowers continued to play. In a draft class in which Seattle seemed to stress durability, Flowers didn’t miss a game his last three seasons.
At mini-camp, Rodney Flowers, now fully recovered, and the rest of the Flowers family (including Tre Flowers’ 1-year-old daughter Bailee) was on hand to watch him begin both his NFL career.
“It’s great just to be here,’’ Tre Flowers said. “Everything I’ve been through, I’m glad I’m here.’’