JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It’s not only rookies, undrafted free agents, and bubble players that have something to prove when training camps open across the NFL.
There are veterans on each team in that same position, too.
They may not be in danger of being cut, but their playing time, starting jobs, or futures with a franchise could be in doubt. They may be entering a contract season and need to show their current team -- and other potential suitors -- that they’re worth a bigger contract.
This week, I’ll take a look at five Jacksonville Jaguars veterans that go into training camp with something to prove.
LT Luke Joeckel
Joeckel was the No. 2 overall pick in 2013 but he hasn't played particularly well in his first two seasons. A fractured ankle cost him 11 games as a rookie and meant his first NFL offseason was dedicated more to rehabbing than getting stronger and fixing any technical issues.
Last season he started every game but wasn’t a consistent player. Pro Football Focus credited Joeckel with allowing eight of the team’s NFL-worst 71 sacks and he had the worst pass-blocking grade on the team.
Joeckel’s points of emphasis for the offseason were footwork, technical issues with his hands, and getting bigger and stronger. He’s up to 311 pounds -- a gain of 13 from the end of last season -- and he said he gained that weight by adjusting his diet and working in the weight room. He and several teammates stayed in Jacksonville and worked on technique, getting some help from Tom Myslinski, the Jaguars’ strength and conditioning coordinator and an offensive lineman in the NFL for nine seasons.
Because of the nature of OTAs and minicamp, any improvements Joeckel has made in those areas won’t be completely evident until training camp and the preseason. New offensive line coach Doug Marrone, however, said he has been pleased with the progress Joeckel has made so far.
Marrone has a reputation as one of the better line coaches in the NFL so Joeckel will certainly benefit from working with him, but it’s a slow process and Joeckel isn’t going to turn into one of the NFL’s better left tackles in a season.
Coach Gus Bradley said he wouldn’t describe this season as a make or break for Joeckel, but it likely will have an impact on his long-term future with the Jaguars. Joeckel is entering his third season and after it concludes the Jaguars could decide to pick up the fifth-year option that is built into all first-round draft picks’ contracts or negotiate an extension.
The reality is that Joeckel doesn’t need to be an elite left tackle. The Jaguars just need him to be a solid player. If he turns into the second coming of Tony Boselli, that’s great, but the most important thing for Joeckel is to prove that he has made strides from his first two seasons.