EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When Eli Manning took the initial snap today in the Giants' first organized team activity (OTA), it was behind an offensive line that has undergone a major overhaul this offseason.
The current line includes two newcomers (left tackle Ereck Flowers, the team's first-round draft choice, and right tackle Marshall Newhouse, a veteran free agent who played for Cincinnati in 2014), two players who switched positions (Justin Pugh from right tackle to left guard and Weston Richburg from left guard to center), plus right guard Geoff Schwartz, who suffered two injuries last season that limited him to five regular-season quarters – at right tackle.
Flowers was working on the right side until last week, when left tackle Will Beatty, who has started 46 consecutive games, suffered a torn pectoral muscle lifting weights. He subsequently underwent surgery and is expected to be sidelined five-six months. Beatty was one of three offensive linemen to start every game last season. Center J.D. Walton signed with Miami as a free agent and right guard John Jerry is currently a reserve.
"Obviously, it (Beatty's absence) is a loss for our team in terms of the quality of player being available for us," coach Tom Coughlin said. "But we just have to move on. Our plans are to continue to try to figure out how this line is going to fall out, who is going to be where. We will probably try some different combinations to get there. Hopefully, it has to happen, if a team is going to make a move, perhaps somebody that we didn't really count on originally, because of the number of reps they are going to get, will benefit from that."
Manning was typically unflustered regarding the changes in the group that is charged with keeping him upright.
"Obviously, having a new center can be an adjustment," he said. "But Richburg was here last year and I got snaps with him last year, so that hasn't been a big deal. Anytime you have a rookie at left tackle, it can be an adjustment. The good thing for him is we're going to throw everything at him early on and he's going to hear everything. We're going to challenge him. He'll make some mistakes, but he's getting live reps from day one with the first group. He's hearing every call and check and (seeing) everything that might happen. The more he can hear it, the more we challenge him and the more you throw at him, the better off we'll be once the season starts."
Flowers was the ninth overall selection in the NFL Draft four weeks ago tomorrow. Now he's being asked to protect Manning's blind side and play what is widely considered the most demanding and important position on the line. Flowers and his coaches and teammates are confident he can handle the job.
Flowers started 25 games at left tackle in his final two seasons at the University of Miami and was happy to hear he'd get an opportunity to play there again.
"That's what I've played for a little while, so I was pretty excited," he said. "Then again, I can play anywhere. I'm just excited, period, to contribute. From the time I came in, whether I was second, third or whatever string, I'm trying to be the best I can be, regardless of what happens. When he told me that (he was moving), it's the same thing I've been doing. I'll still be trying to get extra work. I really feel I have a high ceiling and I'm trying to reach it."
The Giants think he can.
"I thought he was heck of a football player or he wouldn't be here," Coughlin said.
"He's just strong," Schwartz said. "Lifting with him in the weight room – he's going to be a good football player."
The Giants have similar expectations for Richburg, a second-round choice last year who started 15 games at left guard as a rookie. But the Giants selected him to be their long-term center.
"Today felt right," Richburg said. "I like center because it gives me a little more control, per se. I am directing the offensive line. I like that leadership role. I really enjoyed being there today and being in charge of making those calls and communicating with Eli. It was fun."
"I give credit to Weston," Schwartz said. "He's done a good job. The center, his job is to kind of keep everybody together. He's done a great job so far of keeping us going. It's helped us a lot to try to jell as soon as possible."
Pugh was the Giants' first-round selection in 2013 and started 30 games his first two seasons at right tackle. But he didn't hesitate when the coaches moved him inside on the left side.
"I like it," Pugh said. "Like I said when we did some interviews before, wherever I have to play is where I am going to play. Right now I am at left guard and I love it.
"Obviously, it is a totally different position. I am on the other side of the ball. I feel comfortable being in a left-handed stance. I played left tackle all through college. You just have a guy that is right on you. It is a lot closer. Everything happens a lot quicker. I am leaning on John Jerry and Geoff Schwartz to really help me out because they have that experience in that position."
Schwartz would prefer to forget the 2014 season. He dislocated his toe in a preseason game on Aug. 22 and didn't play in another game until Nov. 23. A week later, he broke his ankle in Jacksonville, soon underwent surgery and has been working his way back ever since.
"I was glad to be out there," Schwartz said. "I think I'm a little bit ahead of schedule. My ultimate goal is to be ready against Dallas in Week 1. I'll be there. I'll just kind of take it slow and see how it goes and build up the strength in my ankle.
Check out the best photos from the first day of the Giants' OTA practices
"I feel great over there (at right guard). It's one of those things where I can just step in. Obviously, I haven't played there in a year or two years, but I can step in and feel fine right away. I'm pretty pleased about that."
Newhouse is the other newcomer to the line. He has 36 career starts, including eight at right tackle, three of them last season. He has quickly meshed with his new linemates.
"When you have smart, versatile, tough guys who are committed to the same cause, you might be less polished than other lines that have been together for years, but you go out and fight and know you can go out and win," Newhouse said. "Are we ready now? No, but there are guys in place that know what it takes to win that are very capable. Now is the time to get all of that stuff sorted out.
"This is a strong group. It is just a smart, tough group that is very gritty and ready to fight. I have definitely seen that and I only expect that to get better."
He's not alone.