Jack Conklin didn't have much time to sit and relax at any point last offseason.
That's mainly because, for the first part of it, he could hardly sit at all.
One year ago this month, Conklin was battling through one of the toughest injuries he had ever faced in his seven-year career — a torn patellar tendon in his knee that forced him to keep the leg straight for eight weeks and endure long hours or rehab for over eight months. Conklin suffered the injury in Week 12, three weeks after he recovered from a dislocated elbow, and had to end his season after just seven games.
As the Browns were finishing their regular season, Conklin was beginning the long recovery process to allow his knee to re-strengthen into a joint capable of withstanding the rigors of playing right tackle in the NFL. As players departed Cleveland for the offseason, Conklin was at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus nearly every day completing the same workouts for rehab.
"It's definitely monotonous," Conklin said during a Zoom call Tuesday. "Especially with a knee injury like that, you do a lot of the same stuff every day, and it feels like you're really not progressing just because it's the same stuff over and over again. And you kinda have to get in that mindset of where you can't think day to day, you gotta think, well a month or two from now, I'm going to have progressed a lot."
Conklin returned to the field in Week 3 this season and hasn't missed a game since. The injury is officially behind him, but his teammates haven't forgotten about what he went through to reach this point of the season.
That's why they voted him as the Browns’ 2022 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, given annually to a member of each of the 32 NFL teams who best exemplify courage, compassion, commitment and community.
"Any time the team votes on something and they honor me with that, it's huge to me," Conklin said. "It means a lot to me to have my teammates see the work I have put in, see how hard it was, and to believe in me and vote me in. It means a lot."
With Conklin back, the Browns have been able to remain one of the league's top rushing forces in the league and currently rank fifth in the NFL — and second in the AFC — in rushing yards per game (149.5). Conklin has allowed just two sacks in 740 total snaps this season, per Pro Football Focus.
Conklin said he was still battling through a bit of pain in the knee when he started the season but has felt better as the year progressed.
"It feels great now," he said. "It was definitely something that was hanging around for a while, but I just had to dial in. You deal with that stuff throughout the season. Everybody is dealing with something. I don't think it's hindered me too much, and it's feeling great now."
As the award suggests, teammates couldn't help but notice the long hours Conklin was putting in over the offseason, and that included new players, like WR Amari Cooper, who didn't arrive in Cleveland until he was traded to the Browns in March.
As Cooper was getting acclimated to his new team, he saw Conklin completing his workouts every day, which is what sparked him to learn more about him.
"I noticed it a lot," Cooper said. "He was always in the weight room, always in the training room, but I didn't really know him. I just saw how big he was, to be honest, and I was like, 'Who's that guy?' He was telling me who he was and what his injury was, and I definitely saw all the hard work he put in to get back."
Conklin's affinity for Cleveland grew during the arduous offseason and has led him to wanting to keep his family — and career — in Northeast Ohio. Conklin's three-year contract will expire at the end of the season, but his hope is to be able to stay with the Browns.
"Cleveland will be my home forever," he said. "Obviously, I would like to be here for the rest of my career. We'll see what happens and how that works out. This is the place that I definitely want to be."
But right now, Conklin is focused on finishing strong in the last four games of the regular season.
That's something he wasn't able to do a year ago, and he's ready to embrace them as his long road toward being able to play in the 2022 season nears its end.
"Right now, I'm worried about these next four games and making the most of that," he said.
'Fireworks' still needed from offense
Even though the Browns are sitting on the brink of mathematical elimination from the playoffs, Amari Cooper believes the next four games are still a critical stretch for the Browns' offense.
He's right. The top goal for the offense to close the season will be to help QB Deshaun Watson find his rhythm and build momentum for 2023, and Cooper, who's 126 receiving yards away from surpassing 1,000 yards in a season for the sixth time in his eight-year career.
"We just want to be better," receiver Amari Cooper said on a Zoom call Tuesday. "Obviously, our defense played really well (last week). We wanna go out there and put up points. You know, fireworks. We can only do that through execution, and that's why we practice. The goal is always the same, you know what I mean? You just gotta go out there and accomplish it."
'All hands on deck' at LB
With Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah becoming the fourth Browns linebacker to be placed on injured reserve this season, the Browns are once again digging deeper into their depth at the position to fill a starting role.
Deion Jones, Tony Fields II, Jordan Kunasyzk and Reggie Ragland, who was signed off the Raiders' practice squad last week, are the remaining linebackers on the active roster. Jermaine Carter, Tae Davis and Sam Kamara are linebackers on the practice squad.
All of them could be used at some point by the end of the season to plug holes that have unfortunately only grown deeper for the Browns.
"Honestly, it is all hands on deck," Stefanski said. "We have to work a bunch of guys in there. The guys you mentioned (Fields and Kunaszyk) all have played and can play well for us, but we are going to make sure that everybody is ready to go."