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View from the O-Zone: Too early to count out Joeckel


JACKSONVILLE – Josh Wells's approach is simple and positive.

Asked where he planned to line up when the 2016 season begins, Joeckel – the Jaguars' starting left tackle the past two seasons – said he has just one position in mind.

Left tackle. Simply and positively.

"I'm not thinking anything else," Joeckel said during Week 1 of Jaguars organized team activities, which continued Thursday at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields.

If Joeckel's approach sounds familiar, there's a reason:

Kelvin Beachum, signed as an unrestricted free agent this offseason from Pittsburgh to compete with Joeckel, said recently he plans to start at the position. Although one obviously will be wrong, a few thoughts on that:

One, the situation is probably good for the Jaguars; whoever wins the job, it will have been earned.

Two, the Jaguars should be improved on the left side of the line. Joeckel or Beachum – the latter of whom is expected to be out until August while rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament – almost certainly will start at left tackle. There's a good chance the other will play left guard, potentially giving the Jaguars front-line players at both positons.

Take a look at images from the Jaguars second day of organized team activities.

The third thought is worth remembering, too:

There is no guarantee Beachum is going to be the starting left tackle.

That's something that seemingly has been lost at times this offseason, with observers assuming that the job is Beachum's to lose and that Joeckel has little to no chance.

That's not necessarily the case, and not just because of Beachum's injury.

Joeckel, remember, was the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft for a reason. While he has not lived up to that draft status, he has talent. And whatever the public perception, he had improved last season before a disastrous regular-season finale.

He also has looked good thus far this offseason, with Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley saying earlier this week it seems as if Joeckel is "on a little bit of a mission."

"When you look at Luke compared to the last play of last season to now, I think physically he's had some changes," Bradley said. "He looks stronger – just his attitude and his work ethic, he's really focused."

As OTAs began this week Joeckel indeed seemed focused – and self-aware.

Making his first public comments since Beachum's signing, he revisited his infamous Week 17 performance in Houston last season when he allowed five sacks to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Yes, he said, he has watched the game. Actually, he has watched it often.

"It's about consistency and you can't play like I did in that last game," Joeckel said.

Joeckel was asked if it was frustrating that the season finale overshadowed the rest of the season.

"You have to be consistent and play well every single game," he said. "That's how the job works. I've moved past the Houston game. It can't happen, but it's something that's pushing me all offseason. It's something that when you're in the weight room on a Saturday, when you don't feel like doing it …

"You think about something like that and it helps drive you, for sure."

Joeckel also addressed the idea that perhaps the Jaguars had lost confidence in him, what with the Beachum signing and the team opting not to pick up the fifth year of his contract for 2017. The team made that decision shortly after the draft. It means Joeckel is now scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following 2016, though the sides could negotiate a long-term deal.

Joeckel said he understands the offseason decisions.

"I've got to earn their confidence, that's all that matters," he said.

Can Joeckel indeed re-win the starting left tackle job? Will Beachum's presence provide motivation to do so? Those are key questions, but perhaps not as intriguing as this:

If Joeckel must play guard, can he do it?

He said Monday's OTA was his first time ever playing the position, and he said the position without question is different. And while he said he joked with the Jaguars' other guards that it was easier than tackle because you weren't left one-on-one with outside pass rushers, it's a new position with new challenges.

"Whatever they ask me to do, I'll do," he said.

What doesn't appear questionable is Joeckel's focus, or motivation. He said he took little time off after the season. Yes, he took time away to get married, but he worked out on his honeymoon. Every day.

"I loved getting married, I have a great wife and everything – but football was my mind," he said, adding in something of an understatement, "There was extra incentive this offseason, for sure. This is a big year. I'm excited about it."

Whether that incentive leads to Joeckel again being the Jaguars' left tackle remains to be seen.

But listening to him this week, it just may not be right to count him out just yet.

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