Of course, all eyes will be on Julio Jones when the Tennessee Titans open training camp this week to see how well the seven-time Pro Bowler fits in and what exactly he adds to the offense. Many also will look closely at Derrick Henry to see if they detect any signs of physical decline after two dominant seasons. And much attention will be paid to rookies such as Dillon Radunz and Elijah Molden to determine what they can do to enhance chances for the team’s success.
What about those who do not automatically attract attention?
An NFL roster at this time of year consists of as many as 90 players. Over the next several weeks some will emerge from the relative anonymity of the bottom third and push for – or even earn – a spot among the top 53 for the start of the regular season.
Here are four players who have the potential to carve out roles for themsleves and, therefore, are worth watching right from the outset.
Tommy Hudson, tight end: The Titans have a run-first offense, and Hudson is a classic end-of-the-line, people-moving tight end. He is 6-foot-5, 255 pounds and functioned primarily as a blocker at Arizona State, where he was a starter for most of his final three years but caught just 25 passes. Two of last year’s four tight ends (Jonnu Smith and MyCole Pruitt) left in free agency and were not replaced, which means there are roster spots available at that position. Currently, the job of blocking tight end belongs to Geoff Swaim, who is a seven-year veteran and is under contract for just one season. That means coaches are looking for a long-term option to help keep Derrick Henry running for the duration of his contract. Hudson joined the Titans in 2020 as an undrafted free agent and spent virtually the entire season on the practice squad, which means coaches have seen something they liked in him. Thus, it is entirely possible that he will see plenty action on Sundays this fall.
NaQuan Jones, defensive tackle: He has been one of the most talked-about players among this year’s undrafted rookies, and his opportunity to earn a roster spot improved when veteran Abry Jones retired Saturday rather than report for the start of training camp. NaQuan Jones spent five years at Michigan State and was a role player until last fall. His college career was somewhat underwhelming, but the fact that he was a highly touted high school recruit means there is no question about his unique athletic gifts for a man who is 6-foot-3, 313 pounds. Tennessee needs a run-stuffing interior lineman to help replace DaQuan Jones (no relation), and that is what NaQuan Jones did best throughout college. If he does it well enough in camp, he could emerge as a situational performer this season and buy himself the time to develop into a more complete player over the next couple of years.
Tory Carter, fullback: It is possible that fullback could develop into one of the more interesting position battles of camp as Carter, an undrafted rookie out of LSU, tries to unseat Khari Blasingame. At 6-foot, 229 pounds, Carter is comparable in size to Blasingame (6-foot, 233) but he is more of a classic fullback who played that role exclusively in college (Blasingame was a hybrid fullback/running back at Vanderbilt). Carter’s effectiveness as a blocker extends to the pass game, but he also can be a factor as a receiver out of the backfield or lined up as a tight end. He also can be a big contributor on special teams, and he must be if he is going to make a serious push for a roster spot.
Mason Kinsey, wide receiver: The first player ever from Division III Berry College to sign an NFL contract, he would have been one to watch last summer had there been preseason games. He has legitimate NFL speed, which is what makes him a compelling prospect and is why the New England Patriots added him to their practice squad (twice) last season after the Titans released him when rosters were reduced to the 53-man limit. Kinsey has to show he can use that speed to get open against NFL defenders, and he will get a long look as a return man. In short, he has a chance to earn a roster spot the same way Cameron Batson did in 2018, and if Kinsey makes a strong enough showing over the next couple weeks he could become a problem for Batson, who has injury issues in recent years.