FOXBOROUGH — Trey Flowers’s stomach is always growling.
On the field, in the weight room, during a film session, and even walking away from a big dinner spread, the 6-foot-4-inch, 265-pound Patriot is always craving a little more.
This season, opponents, particularly those opponents with a football in their hands, have been feeling the hybrid defensive lineman’s bite.
“The kid quoted his dad every other word when I was around him,’’ said Bret Bielema, Flowers’s coach at Arkansas. “One time he was telling teammates, ‘If you go to an all-you-can-eat buffet you better walk away from that table hungry.’ Everybody’s looking around like, ‘What the hell is he talking about?’ and Trey said, ‘Never be satisfied.’ ’’
Reminded of his father’s words, Flowers, who really is a chip off the old block — he was born Robert Flowers III — laughed and said his father’s message was simple: “Do all you can. Be the best you can. But be hungry for more.’’
It’s a creed that has served Flowers well.
“Say you’re in the weight room and you get your personal best in the bench press,’’ said Flowers. “Well, you got your PR, so you did your best. But you still should want more.’’
More is exactly what the Patriots have been getting from Flowers, a fourth-round pick in 2015 who missed virtually all of his rookie season with a shoulder injury. This season, Flowers has picked up 46 tackles with team highs in sacks (7) and quarterback hits (12).
Flowers has caused headaches for offenses because of his ability to line up inside or outside and consistently make plays from either spot. He has the speed and power to be effective off the edge, but also the quickness and leverage to be a menace on the interior.
Though that versatility has really developed in New England, Flowers did some jumping around at Arkansas, particularly his senior year. Bielema had utilized J.J. Watt in that capacity during their time in Wisconsin and he was sure Flowers could handle the responsibilities, as well.
“One thing that jumped out to me right away was that Trey had those country strong, big hands that were hanging there like meat hooks and he knew how to use them,’’ said Bielema. “It was very similar to J.J. I remember J.J. used to do those one-handed slaps that would send guys spinning and right away it was the same way with Trey, he had that country strong sense to him.’’
Bielema said his staff would identify the “fish or weakest link” on an opponent’s offensive line and they would line up Flowers against him. It wasn’t just Flowers’s physical gifts that allowed Bielema to exploit those matchups. It was his encyclopedic knowledge of the defense.
“When we would hand out a test to a defensive lineman or a linebacker and we’d drawn the formation and say, ‘Where do you align?’ a lot of them would just draw themselves into the picture and that’s it,’’ said Bielema. “Trey would draw all four D-linemen, all three linebackers, and all four DBs, and 99 percent of the time he’d be exactly right on every one of them.’’
It’s one of the main reasons Bielema said he’ll be offering Flowers a coaching spot as soon as his playing days are over.
“He may have mentioned that,’’ Flowers said with a hearty laugh. “But hopefully that won’t be for a long, long time.’’
Flowers fondly remembers taking those pop quizzes and the benefits of being thorough with them.
“It helps if you did have to change your position or if you need to help someone else out,’’ he said.
Flowers’s rapid ascent from forgotten fourth-round pick to formidable presence may have caught a lot of people off guard, but it’s been no surprise to those who have spent any time around him.
He was never going to be content being anything other than a starter. It was another of his father’s quotes that drove him.
Big Robert would tell him, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’’
Again, Trey said, the message was simple.
“Say you’re doing something good and you keep doing it, you’re going to continue to get good results,’’ he said. “But if you’re not doing something good and you’re expecting to change your spot on the depth chart but you’re not doing anything to affect that change, then you know, you’re just going to stay the same.’’
Complacency wasn’t tolerated in the Flowers home. The work ethic was engrained. Of Robert and Jacqueline’s 10 children (Trey is No. 7), five were Division 1 athletes. In addition to Trey, two brothers played football, one played basketball, and a sister played soccer.
According to Bielema, Big Robert said that of all his kids, Trey “had that extra little heartbeat.’’
That was apparent from a young age.
“He had that ‘it’ factor,’’ said Sam McCorkle, who coached Flowers at Columbia High in Huntsville, Ala., one of many stops in a 43-year career. “Plus, he worked so hard. And he was so smart.’’
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Got inspired walking through the "room of winners" at home. They always bragging about me, time for me to do some bragging lol..maine we cut from s different cloth I'm telling you. Ask anybody in the city. At the time they was on the team who was the best player? Best believe they came from the crib lol I'm blessed to be apart of this family, all we know is success. We had to compete against each other lol, push the next one to do better. @its_summaaatime @hopebecoolin @itsjazz_notjas @gregd2 @cash256 @jmaclin23 @bigsqueeze70 @rawf24 n @ced_ace_bridges we got college graduates, ball players, all that. I'm proud of my family maine, this right here my inspiration #hallofwinners #proudbrother #football #basketball #track #soccer #volleyball #iknoyalsawhopedancetrophy #allerthang AND THIS NOT EVEN ALL THE ACCOLADES
After being lightly recruited out of high school, Flowers settled in in Fayetteville and got better each year. After his junior season (and first under Bielema), Flowers contemplated entering the draft. The thought of life without Flowers didn’t sit well with the coach.
“I went to visit with him and his dad at their home and I talked him into staying,’’ Bielema said. “One of the best recruiting jobs I did the whole year. I think it did end up turning out real well for him.’’
It’s turning out pretty well for the Patriots, too.
“He’s been very productive for us in there, he’s caused a lot of pressures and his penetration in the middle of the pocket a lot of times opens things up for one of the other defensive tackles or defensive ends that wrap around into the space that he has created with that penetration,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “So it’s not just the plays that he makes, but he creates some for his teammates, too.’’
The man known as the “Waterboy” during his Razorback days — “Because he was kinda freaky [like the movie character],’’ said Bielema of Flowers — is now known as “Technique” for his precise play.
“That fits him to a T,” said Bielema. “He just absorbs everything you give him.’’
And no matter what you give him, it’ll never be enough.
Just listen for the growl.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.