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Luke Joeckel will have to battle Kelvin Beachum to keep Jaguars' LT job

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell says he and coach Gus Bradley haven’t lost faith in left tackle Luke Joeckel.

They’re just not handing him the starting job any more.

The Jaguars signed free-agent tackle Kelvin Beachum last week, and Caldwell said Monday that the left tackle spot is wide open. If Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, is going to be the starter on opening day he’s going to have to win the job over the next six months.

"They’re going to compete and that’s been the central theme of our team since Gus got here: competition," Caldwell said during a break at the NFL’s annual meetings at the Boca Raton Resort. "Wherever we can find somebody to come in and compete at a reasonable rate, we’ll do that no matter what the position is."

Joeckel has been a starter since the day he was drafted. He started the first four games of his rookie season at right tackle before being moved to left tackle after the team traded Eugene Monroe. He suffered a season-ending fractured ankle in his first start at that spot. Joeckel started every game in 2014 and 14 games in 2015, missing two with an ankle injury.

However, he has struggled, particularly against quicker rushers. Pro Football Focus tagged Joeckel with allowing eight sacks in 2014, but he did play better in 2015. The team says he allowed seven sacks, including five in the season finale against Houston.

Beachum has started 39 games in four seasons with Pittsburgh, including 34 at left tackle over the last three seasons. Caldwell specifically mentioned Beachum’s athleticism and how well he works against speed rushers on the edge when asked what he likes about the 2012 seventh-round draft pick.

Beachum is still rehabbing his knee and likely will be a limited participant during OTAs and minicamp, but Caldwell said he should be cleared to fully participate sometime early in training camp. Despite that, Caldwell said it won’t impact his decision on whether to pick up Joeckel’s fifth-year option by the May 3 deadline.

It’s clear Beachum is Caldwell’s contingency plan if Joeckel doesn’t win the job and the team needs to move on from the former Texas A&M standout. The Jaguars gave Beachum a one-year contract worth up to $5 million, but the team also included a four-year option worth $35 million in base salary alone and approximately $10 million more in potential escalators.

However, Caldwell said he’s expecting Joeckel to handle the challenge.

"I think he’s going to respond very favorably," Caldwell said. "I think it’s great for him. To Luke’s own admission he likes that. He likes competition. A lot of credit to Kelvin, too. Here’s a guy that’s the No. 2 pick in the draft and has started a lot of games for us and he [Beachum] is like, ‘Well, I’m going to go in there and compete.’ I told him, ‘If you want to come in and compete for it we’ll give you every opportunity to compete for it.’

"He’s got a lot of starting-level experience and he’s played at a high level. I think, like we said at the end of the year, Luke still has a very high ceiling, too. I think the combination of the two of them is going to raise the level of play for both of them."