BOCA RATON – The Jaguars' starting left tackle for 2016 is in no way decided.
While that means Luke Joeckel isn't guaranteed to start there, it doesn't mean he has no chance.
That was among the takeaways from Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell's media availability at the 2016 NFL Annual Meeting at the Boca Raton Resort Monday.
Although last week's signing of unrestricted free agent left tackle Kelvin Beachum from the Pittsburgh Steelers very much means competition for Joeckel, that competition isn't decided. Far from it.
"They're going to compete and that's been the central theme of our team since [Head Coach] Gus [Bradley] got here, is competition," Caldwell said. "Wherever we can find somebody to come in and compete at a reasonable rate, we'll do that no matter what the position is."
While Joeckel, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, has struggled at times in pass protection, Caldwell and Bradley both have expressed confidence in him throughout the offseason.
Beachum's signing means Joeckel will face the most-significant competition since he became the starter in 2014. Beachum started at left tackle for Pittsburgh in 2014 and for six games this past season before sustaining a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
"He's pretty far along," Caldwell said of Beachum's rehabilitation. "I would say at some point in time, early in training camp, he should be ready to go. We'll see how he does through OTAs [organized team activities in May/June] and once we get him in here and start training with him."
Caldwell on Monday called Beachum "a very good technician, very good pass protector," and praised his ability to protect against speed, edge rushers. He also spoke of Beachum's versatility.
Beachum has played guard, and whoever doesn't win the left tackle spot could start at guard. Caldwell also emphasized the depth Beachum brings to tackle, noting that the team didn't have a "viable third tackle" last season when either Joeckel or right tackle Jermey Parnell were injured.
"I'm sure both are going to play somewhere," Caldwell said of Beachum and Joeckel. "It's just a matter of now you have three guys who can play tackle really well."
Asked if Joeckel was an option at guard, Caldwell said, "I think we'll let the competition play out at left tackle and see where it goes from there."
"Like we said at the end of the year, Luke still has a very high ceiling too," Caldwell said. "I think the combination of the two of them is going to raise the level of play for both of them."
Asked how he expected Joeckel to respond to the competition, Caldwell said, "Very favorably."
"I think it's great for him," he said. "He likes completion, and a lot of credit to Kelvin, too: here's a guy [Joeckel] who was the No. 2 pick in the draft and has started a lot of games for us. We told him, 'If you want to come in and compete for it we'll give you every opportunity to compete for it.'''
The Jaguars must decide in early May whether to pick up Joeckel's option for the 2017 season. Caldwell said the team likely will make that decision after the draft.
Other takeaways from Caldwell's media availability Monday:
*Caldwell isn't as anxious about the team's pass-rusher situation as many observers. The biggest reason is his faith in newly signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson, 2015 No. 3 overall selection/defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. Fowler missed last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and Marks missed the final seven games with a triceps injury. "If the season starts tomorrow, we're going to have three pass rushers we didn't have on the field last year," Caldwell said. Caldwell also said while the team didn't sign an edge rusher in free agency, pressure on the quarterback doesn't "just have to come from the outside. I think sometimes the best way to affect the passer is up the middle. If you have those three guys, we're considerably better on third down – and on first and second down – generating pass rush. Across the league … you look for teams with two edge rushers; some teams only have one." …
*Edge rusher in the draft is still an option. "There are some players we feel pretty comfortable with," Caldwell said. "Where they fall, where they go, is another situation, but there are guys who can make a difference and affect the quarterback." …
*Robert Ayers wasn't primarily a money issue. Ayers, who had 9.5 sacks for the New York Giants last season, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after visiting Jacksonville early in free agency. Caldwell said he didn't believe Ayers' decision was based on contract size. "It was more how he is going to fit into our scheme and where he was going to play," Caldwell said. …
*The starting offensive line could be decided by Preseason Week 3. That was the timeframe last August when Stefen Wisniewski was named the starting center over Luke Bowanko – and Caldwell said a similar situation could play out this August. The Jaguars are expected to start Jermey Parnell at right tackle, with Brandon Linder possibly starting at center and A.J. Cann at a guard position. "I would say probably by our third preseason game … we're going to look at it, 'Hey, let's kind of settle on a combination of our top five guys,'" Caldwell said. …
*Wisniewski is still a possibility. Caldwell said the team is still open to re-signing Wisniewski, who became an unrestricted free agent March 9. Caldwell said the team also is open to re-signing free agent tight end Clay Harbor. "The door is still open for both of them," Caldwell said. …
*Whatever happens in free agency at linebacker in the remainder of the offseason, the team likely won't pursue a starter there. "We're more or less looking for depth," Caldwell said. …
*The Jaguars were very willing to bring back punter Bryan Anger. Caldwell said the team extended a similar offer to Anger – a third-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft – as it eventually extended to Brad Nortman, who signed on the first day of free agency. "We felt like we owed it to Bryan and the organization to try to retain and keep him here," Caldwell said. "Apparently, we were off a lot by what they expected and we expected." …