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Week in focus: Competition … for real


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser takes a look at the week that was around the Jaguars …

Competition … for real

A second-wave free agent could have first-wave ramifications.

While the Jaguars signed left tackle Kelvin Beachum this week after the so-called first wave of free agency, the move could end up being as major as any the team made since the start of the league year.

That's because of what it could mean for starting left tackle Luke Joeckel.

Beachum, the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting left tackle until sustaining a torn anterior cruciate ligament six games into this past season, wasn't signed to a reported one-year deal with a four-year option to absolutely, unquestionably replace Joeckel. But it's clear Beachum will have a very legitimate chance to win the job.

The signing in one sense wasn't a complete shock. Joeckel, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, had struggled in pass protection at times in two seasons starting at left tackle. His performance in allowing five sacks to the Houston Texans and J.J. Watt/Whitney Mercilus in the 2015 regular-season finale had been particularly memorable, and General Manager David Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley had both talked since the end of last season about Joeckel needing to improve.

At the same time, Joeckel for the most part last season played better than many observers believed. There has remained legitimate confidence within the building that not only can the team win with Joeckel, but that he has a chance to improve and reach his potential.

Beachum's contract is intriguing. Paying $4 million in the first year with a $40 million option over four more years, it is set up to pay Beachum starter money if earned.

How real is the competition? Very, though it remains to be seen when Beachum will be fully recovered from the ACL tear. That theoretically could delay Beachum's ability to truly push for the starting position.

Ideally from the Jaguars' perspective, Joeckel will play well enough to start at tackle, with Beachum perhaps playing left guard. An improved Joeckel alongside a healthy Beachum would solidify a side of the line that needs solidifying.

Beachum's presence gives the Jaguars legitimate competition at the position – and insurance if Joeckel doesn't make that improvement.

Also, don't assume Beachum is the only one of the two who could kick inside to guard. While Beachum has NFL experience at the position, it's not beyond reason that Joeckel could play there, too.

@kelvin.beachum.jr is coming to Jacksonville. #MOREJAX

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Formidable trio

Could an offensive package with wide receivers Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson playing at the same time be a reality next season?

Caldwell mentioned it as a possibility at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine last month, and Hurns sounded warm to the idea this week.

The package likely would feature Hurns playing the slot. Hurns and Robinson both surpassed 1,000 yards receiving with double-digit touchdowns this past season playing almost exclusively on the outside.

"I'm comfortable with it," Hurns said Thursday on LIVE. "Going into the slot and getting Marqise Lee on the field ... that's exciting because everybody knows the potential he has."

Lee, a second-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, missed extensive time during both of his NFL offseasons. That has contributed to him not being as featured in the offense as Hurns and Robinson, each of whom are also entering their third seasons.

Of the trio, Lee perhaps has the most score-from-anywhere ability, and the possibility of all three on the field at the same time is intriguing.

"All of us out there on the field, it's exciting thinking about what we can be," Hurns said, adding of Lee, "I'm excited for him, and hopefully he stays healthy. We've been talking a lot. No one knows what he goes through not being able to be out there for OTAs and camp… It's tough when you're not getting those reps then and you try to come in for a game. Everything's moving much faster."

And that enthusiasm Hurns has for Lee? That's a real thing.

"That's what I love about our group," Hurns said. "It's all genuine. We want what's best for each other. There's no jealousy. If A-Rob's doing well, I'm happy for him and Marqise Lee as well. We all can lead in our own way. It's all throughout our group."


Around the Jaguars …

*Signs continue to point to Brandon Linder at center next season. Linder, a third-round selection from Miami in 2014, started and showed major potential at right guard a rookie and for three games this past season before a season-ending labrum injury. If that move is made, it makes this offensive line a possibility: 2014 unrestricted free agent Jermey Parnell, 2014 third-round selection A.J. Cann at right guard, Linder at center, Joeckel or Beachum at left guard and Joeckel or Beachum at left tackle. …

*Optimism remains high among players about defensive improvement next season. One reason: the recent free-agent additions, but cornerback Davon House said another is the return to health of tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and Leo Dante Fowler Jr. "No excuses, but our best player on defense – Sen'Derrick was hurt last year – and a guy we were going to count on a lot, Dante, was hurt, too," House said this week. "They're both pass rushers, so with the additions we have on the back end it's going to make everybody else better, too."

*Among the more intriguing proposals for rule changes at the annual meetings in Boca Raton Sunday through Wednesday: proposals to eliminate the chop block, to make the extra-point kick from the 15-yard line permanent, to move touchbacks to the 25-yard line and to automatically eject any player receiving two unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties in a single game. A proposal also has been made to allow all plays to be challenged, and to eliminate overtime in preseason games. Twenty-four of 32 owners must vote for a proposal to become a rule.

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