Jack Conklin was practically a resident inside CrossCountry Mortgage Campus this offseason.
As players halted their daily trips to the building after the regular season, Conklin, a seventh-year right tackle veteran, continued to grind throughout the near-entirety of the winter and spring working to rehabilitate from his season-ending knee injury. He suffered a tear of his patellar tendon in Week 12 last year and was forced into a months-long recovery period, and he embraced the full grind by staying in Cleveland and working each day — save for only a couple weeks of the offseason as a break — to regain his strength.
"I put in a lot of hours here," Conklin said Wednesday. "I wanted to get back out here and help the team. I feel good. It's coming along real well."
Conklin cleared a significant benchmark Monday when he was activated from the active/physically unable to perform list. He's still being eased back into practice and has been limited each day since he's returned, but he's on track to play Week 1 and feels he's in great shape for the grind of the regular season.
"I just have to ease in and just let my knee get back to feeling used to football," he said. "So far, everything has been going great. I feel stronger than I have been in a long time just from putting in all those hours."
Check out photos of players and coaches working throughout camp
Conklin played a career-low seven games last year and suffered his knee injury in his first game after recovering from a dislocated elbow, which he suffered in Week 5. The Browns missed his presence after he earned First Team All-Pro honors his first year in Cleveland in 2020, when he helped the Browns create one of the best offensive lines in the league.
Cleveland ranked eighth-best in the league with 26 sacks allowed in 2020 but regressed to 27th last year with 49 sacks. Conklin's absence was a part of the decline, but the group is in great position to rebound this year as it retains four of its five starters from the last two seasons — the only new player set to start is C Nick Harris.
After spending a season that included more time spent in rehab than on the field, Conklin is eager to rejoin the group.
"I think what really defines you is what you do when something like this happens," he said. "Do you want to end your career, or do you want to come back and work and turn it into a positive, growing experience?"
Conklin, 27, picked the latter and has earned heavy praise from the Browns as a result.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski raved about his work ethic during his recovery. He specifically highlighted how Conklin still helped conduct drills with the O-Line during the offseason program, and he said he earned a higher degree of respect from both players and coaches for how much work he put into his recovery.
"He lived here all spring and all summer," Stefanski said. "I think he may have had a cot set up somewhere in the building. He's been working so hard. I noticed it. His teammates noticed it."
Conklin is entering the final year of his three-year deal he signed with Cleveland in the 2020 offseason. Even though last year was cut short, he's delivered the impact the Browns believed he would bring at right tackle — he was given an 84.3 grade by Pro Football Focus in 2020 and 78.8 grade in 2021.
Conklin, meanwhile, has developed a love for Cleveland in that span and doesn't want his career to be anywhere else.
"I love the team. I love the talent," he said. "It really just comes down to me and how I come back from this. It's in my hands with what happens with that."
That's why Conklin couldn't leave the building when the season ended.
He knew his work wasn't finished — and it still isn't as he continues to work his way back into practice. The brunt of his rehab work, however, is over.
Now, he can focus again on playing football and continuing to be the same, reliable player that has meant so much to the Browns' offensive line.
"It's my job to get back and be here for them," he said.