“I’m not a big fan of hope,” former Jaguars linebacker Tom McManus once said to me during an analysis of a game.
Hope is a funny word when it comes to professional sports. On one hand fans can hope things go well. On the other, hope shouldn’t be a part of a coaching staff’s decision making.
That’s why I’m hoping that the Jaguars staff isn’t hoping things work out on the left side of their offensive line.
During his daily press conference, Head Coach Gus Bradley said they decision has been made to start Kelvin Beachum at left tackle and Luke Joeckel at left guard for the regular season opener against Green Bay on September 11th. All along they expected Beachum to be back for the third preseason game, at the same time saying it would be a competition for the starting spot.
Clearly, the competition was only between Beachum and himself, whether he’d be physically able to play when asked. His 23 plays against Cincinnati showed what he’s capable of doing at the same time showing how he’s not conditioned well enough to play an entire game.
Still, Bradley says it was a “body of work” decision and admitted it wasn’t a true competition at all.
“I can credit as far as where at left guard he really elevated himself and, I cannot argue, that’s what I told him, I cannot argue the fact that you’re playing left tackle better than you did last year.,” Bradley said of his conversation with Joeckel. “I can’t argue the fact that this was a competition back and forth; that’s not accurate because Beachum wasn’t playing much in training camp. It was more the body of work we saw in what was best.”
“The competition did not come out where it was straight from the start because of the number of reps Beachum got, so we went about it a little bit of a different way,” Bradley said, trying to put the best spin on an awkward situation. It’s the first time in his tenure as head coach that Bradley had to “clarify” some things that were going on. I’m not sure what the big mystery was or if they were just trying to protect Joeckel for some reason but it’s obvious they intended for Beachum to be the starter at left tackle, if physically able, from the day they signed him as a free-agent.
“I really appreciate Luke and how he competed at guard and tackle,” Bradley continued, echoing what he said earlier in camp. “He improved at both areas. We felt like he did a really good job with Beachum, you know the body of work that he has had and also what he has shown to us in camp.”
Most fans will only remember the two times Joeckel was put flat on his back against Cincinnati, once falling into Blake Bortles. Bradley says he saw those as well but is looking beyond and in a larger scope.
“There’s plays here and there that you look at, but going into it, we just think that he’s got a high, high upside at guard and for us, we got a guard that’s playing very well and a guy that’s improved at tackle versus where he was last year. For us, selfishly speaking, pretty good deal, a guard and another left tackle for us.”
They’ll have to trim another 22 players off the current 75-man roster by this weekend. That’s why Thursday’s game against the Falcons is so fiercely competitive. Roster spots and some NFL futures are on the line. The Jaguars have a lot of decisions between helping now and developing players down the road. Offensive line is one of those positions they’ll have to release some players who are capable of staying in the league.
“I think that the depth is coming along there.,” Bradley explained. “We feel like [Tyler] Shatley’s really starting to perform really well. He had some good plays we showed in the team meeting today. So did [Chris] Reed. He’s doing a pretty good job in there, too. We got some decisions to make, that’s why this game, a lot of those guys will play.”
Without committing to not playing the starters on Thursday night, Bradley said the plan is to see just about everybody else get some playing time. He’ll look at the general health of the team regarding tightness, soreness, etc., before he decides if any of the starters will see action against Atlanta. Blake Bortles will not play but Chad Henne could also be on the bench for the entire game. The head coach says it could be Brandon Allen at quarterback and he could play the whole game. Plagued with a back problem for most of training camp, Sheldon Day went through practice on Tuesday and the staff is planning on him getting some reps in the game against the Falcons.. Bradley was asked if he had addressed his players’ actions during the National Anthem in light of the recent Colin Kaepernick controversy.
“I have, individually. Just when it comes up in conversation, but we have not addressed it as a team. I think with our team, it is more the communication, they all have their freedoms and things like that, but to communicate and have good conversations about their thoughts, I think is important.”
Bradley added he didn’t anticipate any similar action by the Jaguars.
Game time is at 7pm Thursday on Channel 4. The pregame show is scheduled for 6:30.