Jack Conklin was drafted to fill the void at right tackle for the Tennessee Titans, but his entrance into the starting lineup was not supposed to happen so soon. Now that he has assumed that position, the talented rookie first round draft pick has accepted and embraced the challenge and opportunity.
Entering his first training camp in the NFL, Conklin has impressed those in attendance and his coaches in particular with is play through the first five days of the 2016 season. So impressed is head coach Mike Mularkey that he called out his rookie on Thursday in his post-practice press conference.
"Jack (Conklin) has been very solid out here. There is no question. We've got a couple of really good bookend tackles," said Mularkey. "You would never know Jack was a rookie right now. He's going to get tested, there is no question, but he's got a couple guys he's blocking right now that are pretty tough to block and I'm pretty pleased with it."
Mularkey of course is referring to Titans outside linebackers Derrick Morgan, who Conklin has faced repeatedly throughout OTA's, mini-camp and now training camp, while the rookie has also had chances to block Brian Orakpo as well as Jurrell Casey at times so far.
Of course in practice things are not full speed and Conklin might not have seen the best of his teammates, but he has handled what he as seen well to this point. The real tests however are still to come, including potentially seeing J.J. Watt ( who is recovering from back surgery at the moment) twice in the regular season.
Conklin has also won the praise of his teammates when he got the best of Morgan in a one-on-one drill during Monday’s practice. Conklin's victory the decisive win in a match-up of three pass-rushers vs. three offensive linemen.
Along with Conklin's win over Morgan came the trophy, a WWE style championship wrestling belt that now resides in the offensive line meeting room. Not a bad statement for a rookie in the first four days of his first NFL training camp.
"I think I'm on the way, but I'm not there yet," said Conklin following Thursday's practice. "It's still a matter of getting the plays down so I can move at my best speed and I'm not thinking. But no, I think I'm moving in the right direction, things are going well and we're having a lot of fun."
Along with Mularkey, offensive line coach Russ Grimm has said publicly that Conklin is doing all the right things so far.
"He's my position coach, and I don't think he's going to get on me too hard or say too many bad things about me, but no, definitely for hi to say that, it's great. I can't ask for a better compliment that that for sure,"Conklin said.
"For me, I see myself farther away and working to get better," said Conklin "That's why the drafted me here to be all they thought I can be, so my goal is to keep working, keep going harder and get better so when we get to the first game of the season, we're ready to go."
Asked if he would be disappointed if he were to not be a starter for the first game of the season, Conklin gave an honest answer.
"Personally yeah, that's what I came in here to do and I think that's why the drafted me, but it's up to me , it's on me, it's all in my control," continued Conklin. "Right now it's about me going out and learning my playbook and going hard when I;m out there."
Conklin admitted that this whole process has been a whirl-wind and at times he has found himself spinning from the pace of things around him.
"It's been challenging, I mean it's a new playbook to learn, but through OTA's they got us (rookies) in here and did a good job of getting us ahead and we were able to better understand coming into camp what it was going to be like and it was a heads up."
"I think now it's going well, added Conklin. "I take it day by day but right now I think I'm getting a good grasp of things and there are a couple things here and there I could do better with but so far so good."
In watching the team practice you will easily notice that the former Michigan State Spartan spends his time on the sidelines during rest periods and when the second and third units are on the field talking with his teammate and fellow first round pick from the University of Michigan Wolverines, Taylor Lewan
The veteran left tackle has not been shy, or reluctant to help his young teammate learn the ropes of playing tackle in the NFL.
"For me Taylor has been over and above helpful and I can ask him anything," concluded Conklin. "If I have a question about anything and he's great for me to have an older guy who has been out there and done the things and played in an NFL game, so it's great to have a guy who is so approachable."
There is certainly a rookie learning curve and Conklin will be challenged by the teams on the Titans schedule, but so far so good for the rookie.