Block or bust.
That is the way offensive lineman Luke Joeckel views this all-important upcoming season with the Seattle Seahawks.
Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick out of Texas A&M by Jacksonville in the 2013 NFL Draft, suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 2 on the loose turf at Wembley Stadium in London.
Rather than work out a free-agent deal with the organization that drafted him, Joeckel instead signed a one-year, $8 million contract (with $7 million guaranteed) with the Seahawks, instantly making him the highest-paid member of a low-cost offensive line.
“There wasn’t a whole lot out there long term,” Joeckel said. “So this is kind of that prove-it deal, and it is exciting.”
That the 6-foot-6, 307-pounder was out participating this week at Seahawks’ organized team activities (OTAs) is a promising sign. He did individual drill work, and the team’s walk at the two positions Seattle sees him possibly occupying – left guard or left tackle.
Coach Pete Carroll said Joeckel is well ahead of schedule is his recovery from two torn ligaments (ACL, MCL) and damaged meniscus in his left knee.
“We are really fired up about the fact that Luke has been able to work every day,” Carroll said. “He’s worked every day in the offseason with us. In the format we’re doing (for practices), he’s able to be in the huddle a ton. He’s practiced a bunch with us. He’s making really good progress.”
So what exactly are the Seahawks getting in Joeckel?
Many around the NFL considered the former Outland Trophy winner to be a bust at left tackle in his first three seasons with the Jaguars.
Jacksonville declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Joeckel’s rookie contract before the start of last season, and signing Kelvin Beachum to a five-year, $45 million deal knocked him out of his usual spot.
Beachum won the left-tackle spot at the end of the 2016 training camp, so the team shifted Joeckel inside.
“I was taking pretty much the majority of left-tackle reps, and in week one, I was at left guard,” Joeckel said. “I kind of got thrown into that, but it felt pretty comfortable.”
The position switch seemed to benefit Joeckel – until he went down in the second quarter of the Jaguars’ 30-27 win against Indianapolis in London. He had surgery four days later.
He had shown enough that Jacksonville was interested in bringing him back on a short-term deal, which Joeckel spurned to join the Seahawks in March.
“I love winning football games,” Joeckel said. “That was definitely the most important thing.”
With issues on the offesive line, Joeckel’s versatility is a plus. Carroll has said in the past he sees him at left tackle. But early last month, general manager John Schneider told KJR 950-AM he sees the 25-year-old Texas native more at left guard.
Which is why he was playing at both spots Friday – with a knee brace on.
“We are still careful with him, but yet he’s in good enough shape, he’s been able to take care of a lot of work we didn’t think he’d get done,” Carroll said.
If Joeckel gets a shot to play at his old spot – left tackle – that essentially could mean a redshirt season for second-year pro George Fant, who started the final 10 games last season protecting Russell Wilson’s blind side.
What seems more likely is for the Seahawks to stick with Fant, and have Joeckel play at left guard – in between Fant and center Justin Britt.
The Seahawks’ offensive line still has questions left to be answered. And like the past two seasons, expect it to be unsettled until right before the regular-season opener Sept. 10 at Green Bay.
In any case, Joeckel know he has something big to prove.
“I’ve got to go out there and perform, got to go play well, play aggressive and prove to the whole NFL that I can play and compete in this league at a high level,” he said.