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Jets’ Tyler Conklin ready for ‘weird’ Minnesota return

Tyler Conklin rattled off restaurant recommendations in downtown Minneapolis and reminisced about when he bought his first home while he was playing for the Vikings.

But the sushi, Italian and Mexican meals will have to wait for his next return trip. So will a drive through the old neighborhood that he and his fiancée loved. The only familiar hot spot Conklin will have time for this weekend is U.S. Bank Stadium, where he will be on the visitors’ sideline for the first time Sunday, when the Jets visit the Vikings.

“It’s going to be really weird,” Conklin said after practice Wednesday. “It’s going to be loud as heck in there, but I’m excited. It’s a great place to win. When you go to an environment like that — that’s loud and has a great fan base — the best way to handle the noise is to dominate the game. We can control the noise by dominating and doing what we do.”

Conklin, 27, is a big part of what the Jets do. He ranks second across the board with 38 receptions for 381 yards and three touchdowns in 11 starts, living up to the expectations created when he signed a three-year, $20.25 million contract.

New York Jets tight end Tyler Conklin (83)
Tyler Conklin has lived up to expectations in his first season with the Jets.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“It’s a place where I went from being a college kid to being a young man, and a place I went from being a tight end 3 and special-teamer to becoming a starting tight end in this league,” Conklin said. “The fans grew with me, and I’m excited to play in front of them and play against the guys that I started my career with.”

Conklin positioned himself well in free agency with a leap to 61 catches for 539 yards and three touchdowns in his fourth and final season with the Vikings. But head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman — both of whom were invested in Conklin’s development from a fifth-round pick — were fired in January.

“I could see the writing on the wall that I probably wouldn’t be back there,” Conklin said. “It was looking like they were going to clean house and hire a new staff. I figured that the new staff wasn’t going to come in and pay a tight end when they had a second-round pick [Irv Smith] on a rookie contract. That’s how I viewed it, that’s how it played out, and I’m happy where I’m at.”

It might have been a miscalculation by the Vikings, who started block-first Johnny Mundt over Smith early in the season and then responded to Smith’s potentially season-ending injury by making a splashy deal with the Lions for T.J. Hockenson just before the trade deadline.

Before the season, the Jets had doubled down by signing Conklin and Bengals’ free agent C.J. Uzomah.

“When you’re having success, it is fun,” head coach Robert Saleh said. “Just watching tape of our two tight ends practically chest-bumping after a run because they blocked, guys are playing selfless football.”

Conklin and Vikings right tackle Brian O’Neill already have plans to exchange jerseys after the game. But Conklin won’t have many insider tips because the Minnesota defensive scheme — a Cover 2 or Cover 4 shell designed to take away big plays — is “completely different” than what he practiced against.

“I still talk to a good amount of the guys, but I try to treat every week the same,” he said. “I don’t start talking too much trash unless it happens in the heat of the moment and someone really pisses me off.”

CB D.J. Reed missed practice for personal reasons, but is expected back Thursday and “it’s not going to affect” his game availability, according to Saleh.

OT Cedric Ogbeuhi (groin) and S Ashytn Davis (hamstring) joined Carter as injury-related non-participants. TE Kenny Yeboah (calf) and DT Sheldon Rankins (elbow) returned on a limited basis.

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