Despite some struggles against Josh Allen of the Jaguars last Thursday, Tennessee Titans right tackle Jack Conklin has shown significant improvements from last year through the Titans’ first three games of the season. He’s been a rare bright spot for the offense.
The fourth-year offensive lineman entered the offseason with a plan, and that plan is starting to come to fruition.
The former All-Pro, who wants to remove the “former” from that title, worked tirelessly to lose weight and improve his technique. He also worked to regain strength and confidence in his lower body following a season plagued by injury—he played in just 9 games due to various knee issues—and disappointment.
“He had a plan, he really had a plan going into this summer coming off that second knee injury,” said offensive line coach Keith Carter, who believes that there’s a difference in this year’s version of Conklin and last year’s. “He attacked it, and I’m really proud of him. He took big strides and he’s in a good spot right now.”
“I definitely have way more confidence in my knee,” said Conklin, whose 2017 season ended when he tore his ACL in the playoffs. “Being a year and a half out, now, from the surgery, I definitely feel like I’m back to myself and back to how I was before.”
In the Titans’ Week 1 win against the Browns, Conklin faced Pro Bowl pass rusher Olivier Vernon for most of the game. Conklin was so dominant that Vernon’s name didn’t even appear in the game’s final box score.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel took notice of Conklin’s efforts.
“I think he feels great,” Vrabel said. “I mean, it’s obvious in his attitude. I think he loves playing football again, and coming to work and improving, and studying and learning. It’s always fun and rewarding to work with players like that that don’t just sit there and throw in the towel, and pout and don’t want to act like a front-runner. Somebody that admitted that there were things that needed to get fixed and has worked very hard to fix them.”
He definitely did have things that needed to get fixed. Last season, Conklin looked like a shell of the version of himself that earned first-team All-Pro honors as a rookie. He gave up a lot of sacks, and he never really looked comfortable.
Conklin attributed some of his 2018 struggles to the fact that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the new zone-blocking scheme the Titans implemented last year.
“Last year, I came in after Week 4 to a new offense and a new scheme without really understanding and grasping the aspects of running a zone offense quite as well,” he said.
That lack of understanding shouldn’t have been surprising. Conklin missed all of Training Camp and the first three weeks of the regular season in 2018. He also missed the final three games of the season, and he sat out in Week 10.
Now that he’s back and fully healthy, Conklin has a lot to prove. The Titans opted not to pick up his fifth-year option, meaning that he will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2019 season.
For Conklin, that contract situation is out of sight and out of mind.
“I’ll play as hard as I can, as well as I can, and that stuff will handle itself,” he said.
Conklin will have a chance to rebound from a tough Week 3 game in Jacksonville when the Titans face the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday.
Cover image: Reinhold Matay/USA Today