JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Luke Joeckel has participated in hundreds of practices and workouts throughout his football career, yet he was pretty nervous on Monday night.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ left tackle was apprehensive about how his surgically repaired right ankle would handle the most strain it has been under since he injured it during the Oct. 6, 2013 game against St. Louis.
That anxiety ended once he did his first few reps in position drills.
"Once I was back out there on the field, everything was back to normal," Joeckel said.
That was Joeckel’s goal ever since he was carted off the Edward Jones Dome turf in just the fifth game of his rookie season. After the surgery (which revealed more damage than originally thought), the nine weeks in which he had to stay off his right foot, and the countless hours of rehab and treatment, all Joeckel wanted was things the way they were before the injury.
Once he reached that point, he could resume his spot as the starting left tackle, which was a job he held for less than a quarter before the injury.
"I’ve really never been hurt in football," Joeckel said. "The last time I was hurt was sophomore year in high school. Never missed a game or a practice in college. You get kind of negative about it all, but once you get back and really once you’re able to start working out again, that’s when you start feeling good.
"When you’re just taking your pain meds and lying in bed and sitting on the recliner, that’s when you feel like a piece of crap. When you start working out again you’re ready to start getting back into football and feeling good."
More important to the Jaguars is that Joeckel looks good. It has only been two days of OTAs, but coach Gus Bradley said the 6-foot-6, 306-pound Joeckel looks just like the player they saw dominating the Rams’ defensive front in his first action at left tackle.
"I can say this: What we saw on tape [against St. Louis] we really liked," Bradley said. "Now, in practice, seeing him in drill work and all the other offensive linemen, he’s special. He’s a special talent. He’s very athletic. He’s very smart. He’s mature for playing that position. Now he just needs game reps and that will be a learning process, but we just feel like he’s really got a really good upside to him."
That is why the Jaguars took him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. They envisioned him as the anchor to the offensive line at left tackle for years, but started him at right tackle because Eugene Monroe, the team's first-round pick in 2009, was at left tackle. General manager David Caldwell traded Monroe to Baltimore after Week 4 and Joeckel slid over to left tackle. It is his natural position and he was clearly more comfortable there, but that lasted less than a quarter because of his injury, which occurred when a player fell across his lower leg on a running play.
Tuesday was Joeckel's first time on the field with his teammates since then and he was somewhat limited, taking the first two reps during a drill before giving way to someone else for a rep or two. He said that is the plan for the foreseeable future. He’s not wearing a brace on the ankle, though he is wearing extra tape, and the medical staff doesn’t want to over-stress his ankle.
Joeckel still has a metal plate and two wire ties in his ankle. Those were needed because the injury was a little more severe than just a fracture. Joeckel said he also suffered cartilage damage and tore the deltoid ligament off the bone. A slow and steady approach for his return, especially in May, is the best approach, he said.
"My offseason was way too long," Joeckel said. "Looking back at it all, it was a terrible rookie year, but I’m excited about going into this year. A lot more excitement going into the year, and excited to be back and playing ball again."
And to be normal again.