After a disastrous season in 2018 where he did not get any off-season work thanks to rehabbing an ACL tear from the 2017 playoffs, Titans right tackle Jack Conklin is a man on a mission.
Conklin, an All-Pro selection as a first-round draft pick by Tennessee in 2016, played in just nine games last year, coming back from the injury. In May, while Conklin was still rehabbing a less serious re-injury of the knee from last December, the Titans declined to pick up his fifth-year option in May.
His impending free agency now at the end of the upcoming season coupled with a sub-par season fraught with injuries created plenty of questions about Conklin coming into 2019. Could Conklin fend off Dennis Kelly to retain the right tackle position? Would the Titans be better off shifting him inside to right guard? Left tackle Taylor Lewan’s suspension has since quieted that speculation for now, but Conklin used it as additional motivation entering camp.
“Definitely, but I try not to think about it,” he said. “I try to think about getting strong and healthy and getting back to my old self. I know I can be an All-Pro right tackle and it’s time to prove again to everybody who I am and what I can do.”
Even though the Titans weren’t allowed to practice in full pads, Conklin still showed that perhaps the old Jack is on the way back with a convincing block on the second play of 11-on-11 team drills.
“I worked my (butt) off to get back in the off-season, and I couldn’t be more excited than to work in camp and go into the season strong. I’m feeling good,” said Conklin who said he did not require a second surgery on his left knee after re-injuring it last December and finishing the final four games on injured reserve.
Conklin said his legs are as strong as they have been since the surgery he had in January 2018.
“It feels better than it’s felt since before the surgery. I’m feeling way more confident in it. I feel I can sit down and take on a bull rush. I feel strong. My legs are stronger than they were before I tore it. I’m feeling good. I couldn’t be feeling better than I could right now,” he said.
Conklin’s missed time last year when the Titans were installing a new blocking scheme while he was rehabbing also contributed to his troubles last season. Much of that trepidation appears behind him now, according to Titans head coach Mike Vrabel.
“I would say that he’s kind of locked in on what we’re asking him to do. I would say maybe some of the details and the techniques can always improve, but as far as an understanding level I think that Jack’s (Conklin) just fine. He’s very intelligent,” Vrabel said. “I think that the first year in a system, you kind of understand exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, and then now when I have conversations about maybe where the linebackers are lined, or what the safety is trying to do, Jack as a tackle can see some of those things. He can see the safety rotate down, and we’re able to have those conversations. I don’t think we were able to have those conversations last year.”
Another area where Conklin self-evaluated in the off-season was his pass protection. Conklin indicated that tendencies are things opponents pick up on, and when you combine that with injuries and age, it can become problematic. So Conklin worked to improve on that by going to LeCharles Bentley’s offensive line training facility in Arizona.
“The big thing was my pass sets. I went out to LeCharles Bentley. He’s got an offensive line place in Arizona. I was working with him on that, just to become more efficient on that,” Conklin said. “With injuries and getting older in the league, teams start to pick up on stuff and you’ve got to change. You’ve got to adapt and make yourself more efficient or you’ll go by the wayside. I worked really hard on being more efficient and staying more square and I think it’s really going to pay off.”