RENTON, WA - After scanning the defense and barking out a call to his teammates, Russell Wilson sent receiver Freddie Swain in motion across the formation and then took the snap from center Kyle Fuller. The star quarterback took a three-step drop and began looking through his progressions.
In the midst of a situational red zone drill during the Seahawks fifth open training camp practice, Wilson's eyes quickly gravitated to DK Metcalf, who looked to be coming open on a crossing route in the end zone. Wilson fired a missile towards the end zone, but instead of connecting with the 6-foot-4 target for a touchdown, Tre Flowers had other plans. In tight coverage, the veteran cornerback snuck his hand in to pop the football up into the air, allowing safety Quandre Diggs time to get to the deflection and record a diving interception.
The spectacular effort drew cheers from over 2,000 fans in attendance and teammates and coaches alike came rushing onto the field to celebrate. Battling not only for a starting job, but also his spot on the 53-man roster, it was the type of play Flowers has made consistently throughout training camp to stay right in the thick of the competition at cornerback.
"Tre has had a great camp, his is the best he's been," coach Pete Carroll said following Sunday's mock game. "He's been on everything, he's come back with a real competitive mentality that's really bringing out the best in him. I think this is the most connected he is to our football and his mentality, and I don't think there's any distractions—he knows he's out here to battle and get his job, and he's done really well. He's played the ball the best he's played it since we've been here and has made a number of plays. He's always tough and physical and knows what he's doing and all that, so we count on him and love him and trust him and all that. It's really down to the production that, and really, he's been as good as anybody."
Since being drafted out of Oklahoma State in the fifth round in 2018, Flowers has endured plenty of peaks and valleys. When he first arrived in the Pacific Northwest four years ago, he was viewed by many as a project as he transitioned from safety to cornerback, but in part due to injuries, he earned a full-time starting job out of camp and started 15 games.
Building off the momentum from a surprisingly good first season, Flowers retained his starting spot and made notable improvements as a sophomore. After allowing a 106.9 passer rating as a rookie, he yielded only a 72.5 passer rating in 2019, producing three interceptions and eight passes defensed while surrendering only one touchdown in coverage.
However, Flowers didn't play well in the postseason, committing two defensive pass interference penalties in a wild card win over the Eagles and then giving up a pair of touchdown receptions to Davante Adams in a divisional round defeat to the Packers. Seeking an upgrade across from Shaquill Griffin, the Seahawks acquired Quinton Dunbar from the Washington Football Team in exchange for a fifth-round pick.
Though Dunbar arrived late to camp due to legal issues, he wound up winning the starting job in Week 1, relegating Flowers to the bench primarily playing special teams. But he wouldn't remain out of the lineup for long, as Dunbar suffered a knee injury two weeks into the season and ended up playing in just six games total, opening the door for Flowers to return to the lineup.
After a slow start, including giving up a long touchdown to Cowboys receiver Michael Gallup in his first start of the year, Flowers turned things around towards the middle of the season and played some of the finest football of his career. Displaying improved technique and playing with greater confidence, he lowered his passer rating nearly 20 points overall, the completion rate against him plummeted almost 10 percent, and he allowed just 32.5 receiving yards per game over the next four weeks.
Unfortunately for Flowers, a hamstring injury suffered in Week 12 landed him on injured reserve, and by the time he returned in Week 17, D.J. Reed had seized the starting right cornerback job heading towards the playoffs.
"I felt like I was playing some of my best ball," Flowers said after Tuesday's practice. "It just wasn't my time. God has a plan, and it wasn't my time to stand out and do I wanted to do. I'm just coming out every day to work."
Now entering the final year of his rookie contract, Flowers finds himself in the midst of an intense competition battling not only for a starting gig in Seattle's secondary, but also for his spot on the 53-man roster. Through the first two weeks of camp, he has been splitting first-team reps with Reed at right cornerback, while Ahkello Witherspoon, Pierre Desir, and Damarious Randall have been duking it out on the left side seeking to replace Griffin, who departed for Jacksonville in free agency.
With much left to prove going into his fourth season, Flowers isn't dwelling on what has transpired in the past or what could become of his future. Instead, he's squarely focused on the present, wanting to "put it all together" with the competition at cornerback bringing out the best in his game.
“This is a full reset," Flowers stated. "I’m just letting all of the years go before me. Not thinking about all of the plays I’ve missed and trying to get better every day... I just want this real bad. I want to be good, I want to be great. I want to make the plays."
Flowers didn't aim to reinvent the wheel making adjustments to his offseason program this spring. But after an injury brought a promising third season to a halt and cost him his starting job last December, he put an increased emphasis on the "mental steps" of the game. And while he's turned the page on his first three seasons for the most part, he also looked back at his rookie season in reflection, seeking to rediscover the intensity he played with as he struggled through the learning curve acclimating to a new position in the NFL.
"I watched all of my rookie camp before all of the broken fingers and everything else," Flowers said. "I was punching the ball, I was so pissed when anybody caught a hitch or a slant, any ball on me. I kind of took it back to that, I'm not giving up anything. I want to be on everything and be as sticky as possible, take it to the next level."
So far, these adjustments have yielded quality results on the practice field. Flowers quietly has turned in a strong camp, making several pass deflections during 11-on-11 drills. In Sunday's mock scrimmage at Lumen Field, he met his goal of maintaining sticky coverage regardless of which receiver was across from him and was rarely tested by Wilson, Geno Smith, or Alex McGough, a sign of how well he's holding up in coverage.
Set to kick off the preseason in Las Vegas on Saturday, Flowers should see extensive action out of the gate for the Seahawks, especially if Reed isn't able to play due to a groin injury. With much at stake, including a possible second contract in Seattle, Carroll expects him to continue making the most of his opportunities and step up to the moment as he vies for a starting role.
"He's just coming back fighting, clawing, and scratching. He's not giving it up, he's going for it," Carroll remarked. "There's been no sign of anything other than he's pushing to be the best he's ever been, and he's looked the best he's ever looked. I'm really fired up for him to meet the competitive moment at this point, and I hope he can keep coming through, making stuff happen and can play, because if he's out there he's a stud. He's going to get every chance."