Jack Conklin does not ease into things. He hits the ground running, so to speak, and makes sure his team does the same.
That certainly has been the case in 2020. In his first year with the Cleveland Browns, he is part of an offense that features the NFL’s best rushing attack and the only one with two backs among the league’s top 10 rushers.
“He is outstanding,” Cleveland offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said this week. “… He has been a big part of our success. He has really solidified that right side. He is a true pro. He approaches it the right way. He is a very good player on that right side. He has been great for us.
“Great job by him, as we expected, to come in and fill that spot on the right side.”
It is nothing the Tennessee Titans haven’t seen.
As a rookie in 2016, he started every game at right tackle and helped the Titans establish one of the NFL’s best run games. Tennessee finished that season with nearly 800 more rushing yards than the previous year and Conklin, the eighth overall pick in that year’s draft, was named a first-team All-Pro.
What will be different Sunday is that he will be in a different uniform and on the opposite sideline. After four seasons with the Titans, he became a free agent early this year and signed with the Browns.
It will be a matchup of teams with plenty in common. Each is 8-3 and in the thick of the AFC playoff chase. They are the NFL’s top two rushing offenses and are among the league’s best in turnover differential.
“Anytime you can go back to a place you spent four years of your life and play against a bunch of your friends and old teammates, it is exciting to go back, see all those guys and have such a good matchup going here with two 8-3 teams,” Conklin said.
Conklin, as he did with the Titans, stepped in at right tackle for the Browns and settled in immediately. He has played every offensive snap in 10 of Cleveland’s 11 games and all but four in the other one.
Twice in his four years with Tennessee, Conklin played all 16 games in a season. In the first, 2016, DeMarco Murray led the AFC and was third overall with 1,287 rushing yards. In 2019, Derrick Henry led the NFL with 1,540 yards.
Both times, Tennessee finished among the top three in rushing offense.
Cleveland’s rushing success is likely not a coincidence, therefore, given Conklin’s nearly constant presence upfront.
“He is a great addition to this team,” Browns running back Nick Chubb said. “He is awesome. We love Jack here. He has been amazing for us. He is an amazing person, too. I love having him on this side of the ball with me.”
Cleveland’s yards-per-rush average has improved from 4.8 to 5.0 this year, and its rushing-yards-per-game average has jumped to 161.4 from 118.8 in 2019.
It would be an oversimplification to say that Conklin is solely responsible for the improvement. But it also is impossible to ignore the fact that such a difference is nothing new for him
“I think (Conklin) is doing a good job,” Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen said. “He looks healthy, probably more so than when he was here the past couple of years. … I think Jack’s playing at a high level for them right now and it’s going to be a challenge for our edge guys to be able to set the edge and to rush, when we get the opportunities to rush against them.”