Jack Conklin heads back to a familiar place Sunday when the Browns take on his old team, the Tennessee Titans.
The stakes of the game will also be familiar to Conklin, who spent his first four seasons with the Titans before signing with the Browns in March. His final game with Tennessee was the 2019 AFC Championship, when the Titans' magical run came to an end against the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Conklin discussed what he learned from that experience, his feelings about returning to Tennessee and more in a conversation with ClevelandBrowns.com.
CB.com: What are your emotions heading back to Tennessee for a game with such significance?
Conklin: It's fun. It's a team I spent four years with and the most fun part is having it mean something. It's two teams that are 8-3 playing for playoff spots. It's going to be a lot of fun and fun playing against some of the guys I spent a long time with.
CB.com: You had to have a feeling this would be the case when you signed with the Browns, right?
Conklin: Yeah. As soon as I got to Cleveland, I thought the team had a chance to be really good and we're getting better every week. We've put ourselves in a good position. It's an awesome feeling being here at 8-3 and having the opportunity we have laying ahead of us.
CB.com: What did you learn from last year's run from the AFC Championship and how can it apply to this year's Browns?
Conklin: It's really just coming down to offensively, being able to run the ball and defensively, being able to stop the run. When we really started getting good last year with the Titans, it was when Derrick (Henry) really took off and we were able to run the ball on everybody. They always talk about December and January football. You don't know how the weather is going to be, and the teams that can run and stop the run are the teams that are going to be successful. Luckily we have the opportunity with two great backs and the opportunity to make some good moves here in December.
Conklin: It's awesome to be able to step from one running back to two other good ones on another team. It definitely makes my job a lot easier having those guys back there.
CB.com: When the team is establishing the run in these games, it seems like a lot of times in the first and second quarter it's not coming as easy. What's going on and what allows it to open up in the second half?
Conklin: It's just wearing people down. If they have those runs that are 3 and 4 yards in the first and second quarter, they can become those 30- and 40-yard runs later in the game because teams can only take so much of that beating in the run game. You can only get laid on and run into so many times before you're just tired out or things stop going your way. That's just the mentality we have. We're going to keep pounding you until you give in.
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CB.com: Offensive linemen always seem to rave about the wide-zone scheme. What do you like most about it?
Conklin: I really like the diversity of it. As a defense, you're not going to know when we're running or when we're passing. You can have a lot of your run game and pass game look the same. It really causes a lot of confusion with the defense and is really a lot of fun for us, especially when you get the ball running and then can have a pass play that looks the same as a run and you have wide open guys. It's fun to have those big chunk plays and create chaos on the other side of the ball.
CB.com: You were one of the new pieces on this offensive line. What was the key to establishing chemistry amid the circumstances?
Conklin: I think it's buying in. With these zone offenses, it's about getting guys to buy in. Luckily here in Cleveland, we have a bunch of guys that want to win and want to learn. Everybody was really able to buy in and every day try to figure out more about the system. It's been a tough offseason getting to know guys and being able to have as much face-to-face interactions as you usually have, even just sitting in the cafeteria and talking and getting to know somebody on a personal level. This team has done a really good job with the time we've had. Just buying in and being able to understand the offense and defense our coaches have put in front of us and taking it in stride.
CB.com: When you signed here, did you have any idea what you were getting next to you in Wyatt Teller?
Conklin: Not much. I knew he was a younger guy and he was strong and had quite a bit of ability. To see how he's done this year has been awesome and to see the player he's growing into. I'm excited to see how much more he can become.
CB.com: When you look at Tennessee's defense, has it changed much since you left?
Conklin: You see some new pieces and some guys that are gone. It's a defense that's a hard-fighting defense. They're a bunch of tough guys and they're going to play you to the end of the whistle and play the entire game hard. They have a lot of pride. It's going to be a physical battle for us.
CB.com: What do you like most about a big-game atmosphere?
Conklin: Well, I usually like the noise. These are the games you look forward to. They're the games that mean something down the stretch. They're the games that get you a good seed in the playoffs or get you to the playoffs. That's ultimately why we all play this game is to win a Super Bowl. To have this opportunity in December for a game that means something down the stretch, it's just a great opportunity and something I'm personally excited about and the team is as well.