Erik Flowers might have lacked size and speed, but the former Buffalo Bills' first-round pick and Arizona State graduate was never short on intelligence. So how could the St. Louis Rams blame him for fumbling away a kickoff last week when anybody of sound mind would have done the same?
Last Sunday, Flowers was on the unenviable end of a high, soft kickoff while playing special teams for the Rams. His options were limited and unattractive as 315-pound Jason Peters came storming down the field with bodies in his wake. Common sense would have told Flowers to file his retirement papers with the ball in mid-flight.
"If it required me to get in front of him, I guess I would have to, but I really wouldn't want to," Bills cornerback-kickoff returner Terrence McGee said. "You see a big guy running down there like that, it's scary."
Flowers might have been scared, too. He took a self-preserving peek, and the ball squirted through his hands while Peters and Coy Wire converged at the 31-yard line. Peters recovered the fumble, the Bills made their third straight big play on special teams and, a few minutes later, opened a 34-17 lead. The Rams were all but dead, but Flowers survived.
"The dude muffed it," Peters said. "I just went out and jumped on it."
The Bills were laughing last week while watching replays during meetings. They isolated on Peters, a massive but athletic defensive lineman-turned tight end-turned offensive tackle-turned special teams monster. He spent Sunday afternoon, as he told his agent, "just mashing guys" against the Rams.
Monster Mash had limited experience in covering kicks, so Bills special teams coach Bobby April kept his pregame instructions simple: See the man with the ball, run over everybody between you and the man with the ball, tackle the man with the ball unless you can forget the man and tackle the ball.
"He shouldn't hold anything back," April said. "Thinking slows you down. He needs to concentrate in practice, but in game he should just let it rip."
And so he did.
"Oh, man," Angelo Crowell said with a smile. "Guys were just bouncing off of him, man. It's kind of funny that a big guy can run like that. He was dominating those cats out there. He was just killin' folks."
Peters has, among other things, a deadly mix of size and speed. He left Arkansas after his junior year as a 6-foot-4, 335-pound tight end but has lost 20 pounds since signing on with the Bills. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds during the NFL Combine and possesses a 29-inch vertical jump, remarkable for a man his size.
The Bills cut him in training camp before re-signing him and placing him on their practice squad. He since has been reassigned to the bomb squad. He was effective in punt return, blew up the Rams' blocking scheme on kickoff coverage, had the fumble recovery and received his first game ball.
"I know if I'm going full speed and running to the ball, pretty much they're not going to be able to block me," he said. "I never thought it would be that much fun getting out there (on special teams). I thought I would get out there and be nervous. I just went out there and had fun doing it."
It was the first time he had fun playing football in some time. He told scouts at the combine that he was leaving college because he needed the money. The truth was he was unhappy with his role with the Razorbacks and was battling problems off the field that he refused to disclose last week.
He thought he would be selected in the middle rounds but was undrafted. Scouts worried that he had not established himself at one position. He moved from defensive tackle to tight end in college. He had 21 catches for 218 yards and four touchdowns last season, but he was caught between tight end and tackle in the NFL.
"I was shocked that he wasn't taken," said his agent, Jason Medlock. "He caught the ball well (at the combine). He showed he can play on the offensive line. He did everything he had to do to have a good showing. He can play offensive tackle or tight end. He has soft hands. He can even play defense if you want. He's just a gifted athlete."
Not many players lose 20 pounds and switch from tight end to offensive tackle -- it's usually the other way around -- but Peters has been looking for a home on the offensive line. The Bills figured they needed him on the field somewhere so they could take advantage of his size and agility.
Three weeks ago, Peters asked to be moved to tackle so he could get more repetitions in practice and become a better blocker. The Bills agreed. They already have used defensive linemen Sam Adams and Justin Bannan on the O-line. Peters is a project, but he could certainly line up as an extra tackle. Or perhaps a tackle eligible?
"I think in time with a lot of work he should be a pretty darned good tackle," offensive line coach Jim McNally said. "We could put him at fullback. He's a big guy who can move. I think he's pretty good right now as a combination tackle-tight end. It's just going to take time to learn the assignments."
For now, he can forget the assignments -- and just mash.