Conklin was injured early in the second quarter and the Browns have not made a decision on whether or not to place him on the injured reserve list. Head coach Kevin Stefanski did call it a “significant injury” during his media appearance on Monday, but also said he does not believe the injury is season ending for Conklin.
It is just the latest injury to hit the offensive line this season. Conklin, who is ranked at No. 8 out of 79 offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus, had missed the previous two games with a knee injury. Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. has been dealing with an ankle injury since Week 1, meaning that the Browns have not had all five of their starters available for an entire game this season.
That has clearly had an impact on the effectiveness of the offense, but it is also the way life goes in the NFL, center JC Tretter said on Monday via a team-provided transcript:
“Obviously, ideally, you want to play with your (starting) five. We have not been able to, but we have had Blake Hance step up and we have James Hudson III step up in situations. That is the National Football League. Guys are going to get banged up. There are going to be guys that get hurt, and you have to have the next guy up step up and play well. It has not been great health-wise for us, but we are going to have to find a way.”
With Conklin now out for an extended time, the Browns will turn to Hance as the starter at right tackle. Hance is a nice story, and he gives it his best effort, but he also allowed four pressures and a sack after filling in when Conklin left the game on Sunday.
It is not realistic to expect Hance to play at the same level as Conklin, who earned All-Pro honors last season, but he is going to have to do better than what he showed on Sunday if the Browns want quarterback Baker Mayfield to still be in one piece by the time Conklin returns.
One way to do that would be to lean on the running game, which remains the strength of the offense despite an off day against the Steelers, Tretter said (quote via The Beacon Journal):
“I don’t think there’s any mystery that we’re probably a run-first team. That’s how we’re built. That’s how we’ve found success for the last year and a half. We’ve run into plenty of eight- and nine-man boxes over the last year and a half now, so we understand teams know they want to stop the run.
“We’re built on running the football and moving the pocket and having play action and having people honor the run, so I don’t think that’s some big discovery by other teams. We’ve been capable of running into significantly stacked boxes. We know how to do that. We know how to open up holes, and that’s fine by us.”
The Browns proved last year that they were a team that was able to overcome just about every obstacle thrown their way.
With the team sitting at 4-4 and having lost three of their last four games, now would be a perfect time to rediscover that attitude while there is still time to get the season back on track.