Back home in Miami, Olivier Vernon has a jersey he eventually will get around to framing. He’ll hang it up on a wall somewhere, someday, perhaps give it a special place in a collection.
Although he owns it, it’s not his jersey. No, this one is an Ereck Flowers jersey.
The two University of Miami products exchanged their uniform tops last season after the Giants beat the Dolphins in a Monday night game. It was a sign of shared roots and also a symbol of their mutual respect for each other.
Although neither knew it at the time of the swap, they would become teammates in the offseason, and their relationship has continued to grow since Vernon arrived with the Giants as a free agent. Their lockers, in fact, are right next to each other. If Vernon wants another jersey from Flowers, or vice versa, he can just reach out and grab it.
They also are key pieces in each other’s development. Day after day, practice after practice, Vernon and Flowers face each other on the field, Vernon playing right defensive end and Flowers playing left tackle.
“We’re just trying to get each other better,” Flowers said Friday. “Every day, we go out there and work.”
The Giants like that. Especially for Flowers.
“Ereck Flowers is a young man who is learning to trust his technique,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “He’s fighting hard out there. OV is not someone who is going to make it real ly easy on him. So he’s learning to battle with a good competitor out there.”
The Giants want Vernon, whom they signed to a lucrative contract during the offseason, to live up to the millions of dollars they are paying him. For Flowers, though, they are expecting a bigger jump. As last year’s first-round pick heads into his second season, the hope is that he will begin to show up as the kind of cornerstone tackle the Giants thought they selected.
He gave glimpses of that last season, but playing most of the year with a painful ankle injury — he said it didn’t fully heal until late this spring — plus being thrust into the starting left tackle job because of injuries prevented Flowers from always playing his best.
The knock on Flowers since the Giants drafted him has been his technique. Last year, he admitted, he often went away from the things he was taught and just tried to fight his way through tough situations.
“The thing with Ereck is he’s got a lot of ability, a lot of potential,” offensive line coach Mike Solari said. “The key thing we have to do with Ereck is develop the consistency.”
Vernon, for his part, thinks Flowers is close.
“Man, he’s going to be a real ly good player,” Vernon said. “As young as Flowers is, he’s ahead of the game as far as what he knows and his athletic ability. Once he starts gaining more confidence in the game and he puts it with his athletic ability, he’s going to be even better.”
He also noted how receptive Flowers is to improving.
“I remember when I was in that same position, going into my second year and trying to learn everything I can,” Vernon said. “That’s what he’s pretty much doing. Always asking questions and we’re always sharing knowledge.”
The exchange, it seems, goes beyond the jerseys.