ARLINGTON, Texas - In Sunday night's opener against the Cowboys, the Giants did not have a single starting offensive lineman who played the same position when the 2014 season opened. But don't believe that means there's been a colossal turnover for the unit.
The Giants are in the later stages of a rebuilding project that began two years ago. They expect their line to play on par with the Cowboys' line of last year, when it was widely described as the best in the league.
The two units are on the same path. It's just that the Giants are a season or so behind.
The Giants and Cowboys have gone about rebuilding the infrastructure of their offense in very similar ways: with patience and high draft picks. The left side of the Giants' starting line will have two first-rounders in Ereck Flowers and Justin Pugh next to center Weston Richburg, a second-rounder. That's three years of high picks stacked up.
The Cowboys? They also have three of their own first-rounders in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin.
"I've really got to pick up my game because I'm only a second-rounder,'' Richburg said, chuckling.
There's also some catching up to do in terms of play. The Cowboys are largely recognized as having the top line in the league, so much so that they let the NFL's top rusher walk away in free agency.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said last week that "it doesn't matter'' who the starting running back behind them is.
"Our offensive line, we feel good about them,'' Garrett said. "We've allocated a lot of resources to those positions and those guys have developed well together and played well together.''
Said Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo: "I think any time you have a good offensive line, your whole team is going to benefit. And they've got one.''
The Giants hope they can start having the same confidence in their bunch soon.
"We look forward to those guys,'' offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said. "They're working through some things right now and we look forward to them jelling as the year goes on. We have a solid group.''
A group that believes it's ready to make the next step.
"We've made drastic improvements this year compared to last year,'' Richburg said. "I think we've got some great things coming, I really do.''
The most interesting piece right now might be Flowers. He seemed to be the backup plan for the Giants on draft day when Washington snagged Brandon Scherff ahead of them. Then he had to step in as the left tackle when Will Beatty was injured early in offseason workouts.
On Sunday night he became the first Giants rookie to start at left tackle since William Roberts in 1984.
"I like what I've always seen in him, OK?'' Tom Coughlin said. "He's a rookie. He's had good days, he's had bad days. That's got to work itself out. There's no room for a bad day. There can't be a bad day. He's a left tackle with a righthanded quarterback. But he's a competitive kid who fights you. That's not bad to start with. And he's a big man.''
While the current Giants incarnation has tried to take lessons from the 2007 and 2008 Giants lines, these players also are aware they are trying to match the Cowboys stride for stride, pick for pick.
"They've spent a lot of money and time trying to get that thing built up with draft picks, and I think we may be following a similar route,'' Richburg said. "We don't want to compare ourselves to them, but we do follow the same mold. The same blueprint. They've had success, so that blueprint is something that works, but we're trying to make our own deal here. We want our own identity.''
Pugh is playing his first season at left guard after his first two at right tackle. "I feel like whenever you spend a high draft pick, you want those guys to come in and produce for a while,'' he said. "I think we're going to be able to play at a high level and play together for a long period of time. That's the goal, that's the plan.''
And it's certainly not a unique one.
Notes & quotes: The Giants played with only three safeties. Rookie Landon Collins started with Brandon Meriweather, who signed during camp. Craig Dahl, who joined the team a week ago, also was active . . . Uani' Unga started at middle linebacker in his NFL debut, replacing injured Jon Beason.