Jack Conklin is determined to return from patella tendon surgery in time for the season opener. (TheLandOnDemand)
Aside from Deshaun Watson’s saga, there are some positive developments at Browns camp
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Takeaways from Day 7 of Browns training camp …
The seemingly endless saga of Deshaun Watson – now the NFL is threatening a one-year ban of the quarterback – overshadows some positive developments at Browns camp.
Exhibit A: Jack Conklin
The veteran right tackle is progressing steadily from a severe patella tendon injury in November and could return in time for the season opener even stronger than before the surgery.
“It’s coming along real well,” Conklin said. “[I’m] just getting started back practicing, so you have to ease in. So far, everything’s going great. I feel stronger than I’ve been in a long time just from putting in all those hours [of rehab]. I feel good.”
Conklin tore the patella tendon in his right knee in the Nov. 28 game in Baltimore. When surgery was done on the knee, doctors discovered a bone spur, which probably was the cause of the tendon tear.
The undiscovered bone spur caused him to miss games the year before. Then he had a dislocated elbow in 2021, too. Conklin, 27, was determined not to allow the rash of injuries to end his career prematurely.
“I think what defines you is what you do when something happens like this,” he said. “Do you let it end your career or do you come back and work your ass off and turn it into a positive, growing experience?”
Conklin worked hard to get to this point after the Browns reduced his scheduled $12 million salary in the last year of his contract in return for an $8 million guarantee.
“It was good for the team and me,” he said. “They didn’t know how fast I’d come back or when I’d be able to. They wanted to have the flexibility to bring someone in in order to bridge the gap. Luckily, right now it’s looking good.”
Conklin is motivated to return to the field and earn a new deal to continue his career in Cleveland.
“Obviously, I would love to stay here,” he said. “I love the team. I love the talent. Really, it comes down to me. It comes down to how I come back from this. It’s in my hands.”
Exhibit B: Jacob Phillips
The third-year linebacker has been limited to 13 games in his first two seasons, but is bigger, stronger and “available” so far this summer.
“This is a very big year for me,” Phillips said. “Obviously coming in my rookie, dealing with injuries, missing games. And then last year, tearing my bicep, missing games. This year, I’m just trying to gear myself up to have a healthy season. I know when I’m healthy on the field everything’s going to fall in place and I’m going to show everybody in Cleveland the player I am.”
Phillips, 23, is the missing link in the Joe Woods defense – a fast complement to Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. If he stays healthy, Phillips could unseat veteran Anthony Walker for the MIKE linebacker role and also join JOK as the lone linebackers in nickel sub defenses.
“Being a MIKE linebacker is something I’ve always done my whole life,” said the 2020 third-round pick from LSU. “It’s the one job in the world I’d rather be doing than anything else. It’s something I’ve prepared for and trained for and I’m ready for the moment.”
Phillips has the prototype skill set the Browns want in their linebackers.
“We value length, and we value speed,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “That is Jacob’s game. He is a smart, tough, physical football player. Excited to see what he can do.”
Quiet is good
The Browns’ receivers room has undergone a massive change, both on paper and in personality. You have the sense the Browns coaches welcomed a change.
Gone are the dominant, flamboyant personalities of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
In are the quiet, business-like personalities of Amari Cooper and David Bell. Add in the painfully reticent Donovan Peoples-Jones and mild-mannered Anthony Schwartz and the Browns don’t have a diva in the house.
Here’s how receivers coach Chad O’Shea diplomatically sized things up:
“One of the awesome things about being an NFL position coach, every year the dynamics of the room is different,” he said. “Some years you have some guys that are boisterous and maybe loud and you need to be a schoolteacher and tell them to quiet down. Then there are years where you can’t get the guys to say anything and it might be your job as the teacher to make sure we have some communication going on in the room. I respect all the personalities.
“I certainly love the guys I’m coaching. But I would describe this group as very quiet, just go about your business. And that’s not a bad thing.”
Stefanski had his issues with Stefan Diggs in Minnesota as offensive coordinator and Beckham with the Browns as head coach. Both left their teams with Stefanski on the job.
“I do not care,” Stefanski said of the contrast in personalities this year with his receivers. “I really do not. You just want everybody to be authentic and to be themselves.”
For the second time this week, the Browns added a receiver. The latest is Daylen Baldwin, who was undrafted this year out of Michigan. Baldwin also played at Morgan State and Jackson State. He is 6-2 and 212 pounds …
Receiver Amari Cooper (ankle) returned to practice …
Former Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas has been on hand for several days. He has impressed coaches by giving pointers to some of the linemen, particularly left tackle Jedrick Wills, on the details of technique in blocking sets. Thomas said his weight is down to 260 since he retired, and wants to trim another 10 pounds …
The Browns are off on Thursday after just three work days in a row. The schedule gets jumbled with the onset of preseason games. Next week, Stefanski intends to take his team to Jacksonville an extra day early. They will have a short workout there.