Browns coach Kevin Stefanski revealed Monday on Zoom the surgery had taken place, adding Conklin “is in good spirits” and is expected to return to team headquarters in roughly a week.
However, Stefanski would not reveal who will start in place of Conklin with five games left in the regular season, beginning with the Browns (6-6) hosting the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens (8-4) in a rematch of Cleveland's 16-10 loss Nov. 28 in Baltimore.
Blake Hance has started four games (Week 7 and Weeks 9-11) at right tackle this season in place of Conklin, who missed two games with another knee injury and three more games with a dislocated left elbow. Rookie fourth-round draft pick James Hudson III started one game (Week 6) in place of Conklin.
Hance played all 50 snaps at right tackle in Baltimore after Conklin's devastating knee injury occurred on his 10th snap of the game.
“It was a huge blow,” running back Kareem Hunt said Monday on Zoom.
Stefanski would not commit to Hance starting when asked about it Monday. Asked whether the decision is down to Hance and Hudson, Stefanski said, “With all of our guys, we're looking at what gives us the best chance, and certainly at the offensive line, you have to replace a guy like Jack, that's not easy. We're working through all of that.”
The Stefanski sidestep points to another candidate: practice-squad tackle Alex Taylor, who has never started an NFL game.
Whoever starts at right tackle can expect help with double-teams and chip blocks from tight ends and running backs. As a result, left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. should not anticipate receiving as much help on his side of the offensive line.
“Jed has very high expectations of himself, as do I,” Stefanski said. “He's working very hard. I think he's had some really good moments, but he's working on his craft.
“There are certain things you can do to help a tackle or to slide to a guard and those type of things, but ultimately, it's a difficult job that those guys have. We're counting on them, and they know that.”
ProFootballFocus.com has Conklin ranked 16th among 82 qualifying offensive tackles this season. Wills is 57th, and Hance is 65th. Neither Hudson nor Taylor have played enough to qualify for a spot in those rankings.
In-house expectations are high for Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield
If the Browns really expect quarterback Baker Mayfield to play his best ball of the season in their final five games, as General Manager Andrew Berry outlined last week during the bye, protecting him with adequate tackles would be a good step.
The passing game has been inept in recent games.
Mayfield has been playing through an injured left, non-throwing shoulder since Week 2, plus lower-body injuries (left heel, right knee contusion, groin) the past few weeks. Berry said he expects Mayfield to be healthier coming off the Week 13 bye, but the GM also said the quarterback has been healthy enough to win.
“He does have things that he's working through, but he's confident when he's out there that he's playing and giving us a really good chance to win these games,” Stefanski said. “We've fallen short, and we've fallen short as a team. That's kind of how it works. We win as a team. We lose as a team. Moving forward, we're really focusing on what we can do to get better.”
To that end, the coaching staff spent the bye week scouting itself from personnel, play-calling and decision-making angles, Stefanski said.
Last season, adjustments made during a Week 9 bye helped Mayfield get hot late in the year as the offense propelled the Browns to their first playoff berth since 2002.
What unfolded behind closed doors with Stefanski, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and Mayfield during this year's bye?
“Just normal meetings that we have each week and making sure that we are all on the same page,” Stefanski said. “If you go back to last year, it was really streamlining concepts, and we didn't have that  offseason [due to the pandemic]. This year, with this later bye, it's really about what do we do well and how can we do it better and then what we're not doing so well and let’s pivot in a different direction.”
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As for Berry expecting Mayfield to be at his best down the stretch, Stefanski said, “That's the expectation for all of us.”
The father of Hunt ripped Mayfield amid the loss in Baltimore, but the standout running back apparently does not agree.
“Baker’s our guy,” Hunt said. “He always gives it 100% each time he’s out there, so I believe he’s going to come out and be ready and compete.”
Bracing for rematch with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson
Stefanski said he casually followed the Ravens' 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) on Sunday before catching up to the game film Monday morning.
“You can do some TV scouting. You can,” he said. “You can see things and make a mental note or send yourself a text message, but I wasn't watching. I was following it on my phone, though. I got caught up this morning on it.”
The Steelers sacked the elusive Jackson seven times.
“Pittsburgh did a nice job,” Stefanski said. “They varied their package up in terms of pressure and coverage. Ultimately, they got him on the ground. Now, he's hard to get on the ground. The first guy oftentimes does not succeed, so you really have to be relentless to the football when you're playing Lamar.”
“Being able to get to the quarterback, putting pressure on Lamar and all of that stuff, that is something we have to do,” Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. said on Zoom. “I thought we did a good job last time. We have to keep him in the pocket a little bit better and not let him get outside.”
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Jackson had a rough outing against the Browns — he threw four interceptions — but he still made clutch plays, including a 13-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. He avoided at least two sacks during the play.
“He's a great player,” Stefanski said. “You're never going to shut him out.”
Cleveland Browns energized in first practice back from the bye
The Browns didn't open Monday's practice to reporters, but Stefanski shared positive thoughts about how his players performed after last week's break.
“I think they were really engaged,” he said. “I think they were moving around and flying around the practice field today, so I feel like they recharged with their time away from here.”
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The Ravens losing and the Las Vegas Raiders (6-6) falling 17-15 to the Washington Football Team on Sunday were positive developments for the Browns in the AFC playoff race. The Browns are 11th in the conference playoff standings. The top seven finishers will qualify for the postseason.
“You play the game to go to the next level as far as playoffs and giving yourselves a chance to be in the final race,” Walker said. “To say we still have a shot — we have not played our best ball yet, and we all know that and we are still in the mix — it just makes coming to practice just a little more worth it. We understand that all of the goals that we had to start the season are still out in front of us. We just have to take care of business.”
Cleveland Browns rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah standing out
Among the Browns defenders who played well in Baltimore is rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a second-round selection from the University of Notre Dame.
He is PFF's highest-graded rookie defender and ranked fifth among 84 qualifying linebackers this season.
“Just his explosiveness, his ability to read, diagnose a play and just go ... you can’t really coach that — instincts,” Walker said. “I think he’s just one of those, ‘I see it. I’m going to trust it. I’m going to go, and I’m going to fly like a bat out of hell and get there before they get me.’
“He was able to get the ball carriers before they were even able to turn their shoulders, and that’s a huge play at linebacker. You want to beat them to the point of attack.”
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Walker has seen Owusu-Koramoah's development take off as he has gained a better understanding of the defense.
“He knew his job 100%, but knowing where he’s supposed to fit within the defense, I think he’s really starting to understand that now, and he’s making plays because of it,” Walker said. “He’s trusting all 11 guys around him, knowing where he’s supposed to be, if somebody’s supposed to be outside of him, or if he’s outside and turning the ball back inside and just being instinctive. Man, he’s a very instinctive, explosive player, and he’s showing it.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Jack Conklin recovering from surgery as Browns contemplate replacement