JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s as if Luke Joeckel has a new twin in his life.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ first-round draft pick grew up facing the inevitable comparisons between himself and his twin brother, Matt. Although they both made their way to Texas A&M to play football, their separate identities had been forged by that point.
“We went into high school probably about 10 pounds apart,” Luke said. “And I gained 100 pounds in high school, and he stayed lean and tried to be pretty like a quarterback.”
But almost from the moment the Jaguars took him with the second overall selection in April, Joeckel has become linked to another offensive tackle who was also a No. 2 choice before the franchise had even played its first game.
Tony Boselli has heard the talk about how Joeckel is not only built like him but bears more than a slight facial resemblance to the 1995 version of him. Neither of them looked old enough to shave, much less go toe-to-toe with some of the NFL’s fiercest pass rushers.
But Boselli quickly adapted and would earn five consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl until a chronic shoulder problem brought a premature end to his career. Now a member of the Jaguars’ radio broadcast crew, he envisions Joeckel embarking on a similar road as a rookie.
“He’s in a good situation,” he said. “He’s on a young team, a team with a new staff where everyone is starting fresh, a little bit like we did in ’95 when we were an expansion team. And if he works hard and does what he did to get to this point, the sky’s the limit.”
One huge difference is that Boselli never had to learn how to play right tackle. With fifth-year pro Eugene Monroe firmly ensconced on the left side, the 6-foot-6, 306-pound Joeckel spent the Jaguars’ organized team activities and minicamp adjusting to a position he didn’t play while protecting Ryan Tannehill and then Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel with the Aggies.
Joeckel’s situation is rare but not unprecedented. Boselli said he can recall Tony Jones, a starting left tackle for the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens from 1990 to 1996, having to switch sides after signing with Denver because the Broncos had future Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman at left tackle. Jones went back to the left side after Zimmerman retired, and depending on what the Jaguars decide to do with Monroe next offseason, Joeckel could be back at the spot where he caught the eye of pro scouts and garnered mention as a possible top overall selection.
“If I was to give Luke advice, I wouldn’t worry about it,” Boselli said. “Just play football. Play right tackle and be the best right tackle you can.”
That was what Joeckel did well enough during his sophomore and junior years at Arlington High in Texas to become a second-team all-state selection.
“I know that was a long time ago, but I’m still comfortable there,” he said. “I think it will take a little bit of time with the transition to feel 100 percent comfortable. But I’m a detailed, technical guy, and I’m going to be totally comfortable by the time the first game comes around.”
Although his father, David, was a three-year starter as an offensive lineman at Texas Tech and good enough to be invited to the Broncos’ training camp in 1983, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say Joeckel was born to play that position. He would alternate with his brother playing quarterback on a youth team coached by the elder Joeckel — “I can still throw it further than Matt,” claims Luke — and then tried becoming a tight end in the eighth grade.
A combination of a love for contact and the need to shore up what was a porous offensive line transformed him into a tackle for good.
“Luke’s got a rocket arm. So does Matt,” said David Joeckel, now a lawyer with his own practice. “But I could just tell Matt was a natural quarterback. He sees the field very well. Luke was very good, but I moved him to tight end. And then I convinced him that being a good tackle is a lot more important than being a good tight end.”
Despite being raised in the heart of Dallas Cowboys country, it was Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas whom Joeckel said he tried to pattern his style of play after. The Jaguars have a game Dec. 1 at Cleveland where Joeckel will get a chance to meet him.
“I’m an offensive lineman at heart,” he said. “I like to be in the background. I don’t like the bright lights. I came from an offensive lineman’s family, and I love the physical aspect of the game.”
“He has an innate ability to be patient and, just like the defenders coming at him, has an answer for counter moves and speed moves,” general manager Dave Caldwell said of the first player taken since the Jaguars hired him. “He does it very effortlessly throughout the course of the game, and very seldom does he look bad or like he’s really overextending at all.”
First-year coach Gus Bradley has described Joeckel as reliable, smart and not ego-driven. But for anyone who might interpret his mild-mannered demeanor as a lack of intensity, Bradley has a warning.
“He’s just a different man when he puts those pads on,” he said. “So there’s no doubt he has nastiness.”
That mean streak could be on full display when the Jaguars open the regular season Sept. 8 at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. Joeckel believes the Chiefs kept him in the dark leading up to the draft about what they were going to do with the No. 1 pick. They wound up picking another offensive tackle, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan.
Although he’s happy to be a Jaguar, the slight of that night hasn’t been totally forgotten.
“Not getting that and having another tackle go before me puts a chip on my shoulder,” Joeckel said. “I’m ready to work, and it’s going to push me even harder. He’s a good player and all, but I’m ready to go and prove Kansas City wrong.”